At One California Prison, a 'Devastating' COVID Outbreak

Nearly a third of the inmates at San Quentin State Prison have contracted the virus
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 30, 2020 7:21 AM CDT
At One California Prison, a 'Devastating' COVID Outbreak
This June 22, 2018, photo shows Richard Stitely. An autopsy is scheduled to see if the death row inmate at San Quentin State Prison died of COVID-19.   (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

One California correctional facility currently accounts for nearly half of the state's 2,000-plus prison cases of COVID-19, a fact that Gov. Gavin Newsom is now calling a "deep area of focus and concern." Citing data from the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, USA Today reports that of the 2,600 or so active coronavirus cases in California's prisons, more than 1,000 are at San Quentin State Prison—nearly a third of its population of 3,500. Per the Marin Independent Journal, an autopsy is set to see if 71-year-old Richard Stitely, a death row inmate with COVID-19 who died last week, is the prison's first COVID-19 death. NPR notes there were no inmate cases there from March through May, but that once the outbreak hit, it spread rapidly. "It's devastating how fast this has moved," a UC San Francisco medical professor says, calling the outbreak "shocking."

So what spurred the outbreak? Newsom on Monday suggested a transfer in late May of 120-plus prisoners from Chino's California Institution for Men, where the virus has been running rampant, could be behind it. "Unfortunately, they arrived untested and ... really kind of seeded an outbreak," a Marin County public health official tells NPR. What's going on at San Quentin is having ripple effects throughout the county, as health officials say hospital capacity is being overwhelmed with the prison cases. The reopening of gyms, hotels, and other businesses originally scheduled for Monday has since been postponed. Meanwhile, in addition to preventive measures taken within the prison, Newsom says officials are looking to see if some inmates can be released early, per CBS San Francisco. (Read more San Quentin stories.)

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