SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) — A COVID-19 outbreak among inmates and staff at San Quentin State Prison topped 700 confirmed cases Saturday with plans underway to transfer an undisclosed number of inmates to a state facility in Kern County.
According to state prison COVID-19 tracking, 610 inmates were actively infected with the virus at San Quentin. Three other inmates stricken by the disease had been released from state custody and at least 25 were being treated at Bay Area hospitals under heavy security.
The dashboard showed that 568 inmates have been infected within the last 14 days and no inmate has completely recovered from the virus.
Among prison employees, 89 have tested positive with 6 of those being able to return to work.
On Friday night, prison officials said an undisclosed number of inmates may be transferred next week from San Quentin to North Kern State Prison in Delano.
“The department is very concerned with the increase in positive COVID-19 cases in San Quentin, and in order to create more space to facilitate physical distancing, quarantine, and health care treatment efforts, CDCR will be transferring some inmates next week to North Kern State Prison,” officials said in a website posting. “Every precaution is being taken before and after the transfer in coordination with the court appointed Federal Receiver to ensure the safety and wellness of our incarcerated population and staff.”
They said all the inmates would be tested before they are moved.
“The incarcerated persons are being tested and evaluated before and after the transfer, and if any those in the identified cohort test positive before the transfer, none will be moved,” the posting said. “Once moved, they will be quarantined in currently vacated housing units at North Kern upon their arrival.”
On Friday, Marin County — where San Quentin is located — rolled back plans for further easing of local COVID-19 restrictions because cases among local residents were on the rise and the outbreak at the prison.
“We planned to take a big step forward on Monday, but instead we are taking a smaller step,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s health director, in a video posted Friday night. “Indoor restaurants, hair salons are still on deck for Monday, but gyms, personal services, hotels and short term rentals will be paused for now. Here’s why we are tapping the breaks. Yesterday, 54 new COVID-19 cases were reported (in Marin County) which is the single largest number on any day so far. In addition there are 12 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Marin and five in intensive care.”
Willis also cited the San Quentin outbreak.
“Compounding the problem is an outbreak at San Quentin Prison,” he said. “While this is a sequestered and distinct population of almost 4,000 inmates and 1,000 staff — it’s still part of our county. San Quentin is experiencing the largest prison outbreak of COVID-19 in the state with nearly 600 cases among inmates and 75 among staff in just over 2 weeks. This has stressed local hospital capacity because at least 25 inmates have required hospitalization within the region.”
“These are not easy decisions,” Willis continued of plans to slow reopenings. “Taken together, the spikes in cases statewide, regionally and in our own community, increased hospitalization and ICU stays and large prison outbreak that is still uncontrolled within our borders — We need to take a more caution approach.”
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.
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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.”