SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) — A coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin State Prison continues to grow Saturday, with more inmates and prison staff testing positive with COVID-19.
The number of cases has grown exponentially in the past two weeks. There are now 151 inmates that have tested positive for COVID-19 according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation coronavirus website. One of those inmates who tested positive has been released, the site said.
At last report, 37 staff members also tested positive. That number is up from only 26 cases confirmed on June 16.
Earlier this week, advocates, prisoners and their families demanded urgent action to release prisoners and curb the spread.
During a virtual press conference Tuesday morning, activists with Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights said the coronavirus started rapidly spreading through the prison last week.
A coalition of criminal justice activists said some of the cases at San Quentin stem from a May 30 transfer of 121 inmates from the California Institution for Men, a Southern California facility that had roughly 500 active cases at the time and had reported 13 coronavirus-related deaths.
San Quentin had zero confirmed cases prior to the transfer, according to the coalition. At least four inmates transferred from the California Institution for Men have since tested positive, the group said.
One prisoner called into the conference from the jail to comment on the current conditions.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, the prison passed out hand sanitizer donated by UCSF. We got one small bottle and haven’t received any since. When it comes to this pandemic, they have absolutely no idea what they are doing, the prisoner said. “The statewide order to socially distance does not contain a footnote excluding incarcerated persons. Our right to be free of grave physical harm is not being afforded to us in the same manner that other human beings are receiving it.”
The governor has started releasing prisoners within 180 days of their original release date, but some are arguing that’s not enough people to make a difference.
A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said San Quentin’s testing rate is roughly three times the state and national coronavirus testing rates and state correctional officials are working to secure the capacity for mass testing both at San Quentin and the state prison system at large.
The state has also installed alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations in areas where sinks and soap are not available and prison facilities are being routinely cleaned and sanitized. Mandated staff testing is also underway at San Quentin and four other state prisons, according to CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas.
“CDCR takes the health and safety of our incarcerated population and the community-at-large very seriously and have taken unprecedented steps to address this public health crisis,” Simas said via email, noting that prisons have also reduced dorm density, provided temperature screening and masks and suspended in-person visiting.
“We will continue to expand on our efforts to safely and securely increase physical distancing within our institutions,” she said.