OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - California, like many states across the nation, is experiencing a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
As the state struggles to contain the recent spike, health officials are trying to address an outbreak within California's prison system, which has become a breeding ground for transmission.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday, that 1,021 inmates at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County have tested positive for the virus and over 2,500 inmates across the state.
Infections at San Quentin, California's oldest prison, doubled from last week's count of 450 inmates who tested positive. The majority of the spike occurred over the last 14 days. Just one month ago, there were zero reported cases at the prison.
The problem began when 121 prisoners arrived by bus from the California Institution for Men in Chino where an outbreak had already plagued more than 400 inmates. Newsom said it was reported that one of the transfers tested positive.
To deal with the spreading virus, the state decided to move those considered medically high-risk. While the state said the transferred inmates were previously tested for the virus, it wasn’t clear when or how close to their transfer date that testing occurred.
“It makes sense to try to transfer people out to create more space when it’s overcrowded,” Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said. “The problem is you run the risk of seeding another facility if they haven’t been tested and that seems to be what occurred here.”
Inmates told KTVU the transferred prisoners were housed above them in upper tiers of a specific unit. Separated only by decades-old bars and not steel doors, they said germs and particles fell on them below and were spread inside.
“They let those guys come out, go to the yard and they had to touch on the metal to walk down the stairs,” inmate Henry Oliver said. “They used the same shower as we did. They were touching everything that we were touching.”
San Quentin, like all 35 California prisons, has long been overcrowded and created challenges for physical distancing, proper health and hygiene practices, and routine sanitation.
So far, 21 prisoners in California have died from COVID-19, including one from San Quentin.