SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) — A COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison continued its rapid spread Friday with 545 confirmed cases among the inmate population with 16 of the most seriously ill having been transferred under guard to local hospitals for treatment, according to state officials.
“As of June 25, there were 16 incarcerated people from San Quentin State Prison out to hospitals,” officials said on an email to KPIX 5.
Officials said security at those hospitals was foremost in the agency’s mind.
“Transporting inmates to medical facilities is not new and CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) has had policies and procedures regarding medical guarding and transportation for decades,” officials continued in the email. “Round-the-clock custody coverage is provided at the hospital when an inmate is admitted.”
According to the Department of Corrections case tracker, 73 prison employees have also been infected with the virus.
Over the last 14 days, prison officials said, 518 cases have been confirmed within the prison population with as many as 1,000 tests still waiting to be processed.
There have been 20 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths within the state corrections system. While none of those deaths have been reported at San Quentin, officials at the prison located in Marin County where investigating the death this week of a condemned inmate.
The CDCR said 71-year-old Richard Eugene Stitely, on San Quentin’s Death Row since 1992, was found unresponsive in his cell Wednesday at 8:38 p.m.
He was given medical assistance and an ambulance was summoned, but he was pronounced dead about a half-hour later. There were no signs of trauma and the cause of death and COVID-19 status would be determined by the Marin County Coroner, CDCR said.
The outbreak has raised concerns from local officials.
“If we continue to see increased infections at San Quentin, hospitals across the whole bay area will be impacted,” says California Assemblyman Marc Levine of Marin County. “That is what CDCR is doing right now, finding out where hospitals have capacity.”
Calling the situation at San Quentin a crisis, Marin County is asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to put an incident commander in charge.
“We need to have someone that’s able to make good decisions,” Levine explains of the request. “To protect the health and safety of the prison population, and make sure that there isn’t a capacity issue in our local hospitals.”
“Well we’re working actively to take a regional approach to this,” says Marin County Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. “You know this is a state facility that happens to be in one county.”
Willis says everyone understands that Marin needs help. So the state is drawing up a plan for how to spread the very sick to hospitals around the Bay Area.
“So there’s an allocation regionally, to make sure people are getting timely care and it’s equitably distributed to places where they can be managed,” Willis says.
There is frustration, however, that this situation happened at all. Levine was asking about outbreak plans at San Quentin two months ago.
“I asked CDCR and San Quentin to create a site-specific plan to deal with an outbreak of Covid back in April. In May they declined to do so,” Levine says. “What we have seen now with the transfer of inmates from Chino to San Quentin is that they had no plan at all, whether it was written or unwritten. We need to have someone in charge that can make good decisions, I think someone with a background in public health, that has decision making authority.”
The more than 500 cases here at the prison are not counted in Marin’s total case number.
Dr. Willis says he is not concerned about the outbreak spreading beyond the prison. He says San Quentin is relatively isolated from the county as a whole. He says Marin Case numbers, which are rising, are being driven by regular folks who are out working, or visiting restaurants and social gatherings.