California's oldest correctional facility is battling a widespread coronavirus outbreak that has impacted nearly a third of its inmates.
San Quentin State Prison reported more than 1,000 positive coronavirus cases as of Monday morning, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press briefing. The prison housed 3,507 inmates as of Wednesday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
"That is our deep area of focus and concern right now," Newsom said. He added 42% of San Quentin's inmate population is considered "medically vulnerable."
San Quentin's outbreak is more than double the size of the one at the California Institution for Men in Chino. According to data released by the CDCR, there are 509 confirmed coronavirus cases at the California Institution for Men. By Monday night, there were 1,059 confirmed cases at San Quentin, according to the same data.
The cases at San Quentin account for more than half of the 2,059 active cases in prisons across the state, CDCR press secretary Dana Simas said in a statement to USA TODAY.
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"CDCR, along with health care and public health experts at (California Correctional Health Care Services), are preparing to set up air-conditioned tent structures within San Quentin State Prison and are coordinating logistics to determine the most effective use of additional medical triage and housing space," Simas said. "More details will be shared once those decisions are finalized."
Newsom said the cause of San Quentin's outbreak is still under investigation, but pointed to a transfer of prisoners from Chino.
"Unfortunately, they arrived untested and were placed within San Quentin and really kind of seeded an outbreak in a second state facility," said Dr. Matt Willis, public health officer for Marin County, told NPR.
More than 4,800 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus in California's prison system since the first positive result on March 22, according to the CDCR. Newsom said there are about 113,000 inmates in the state's correctional system.
Simas outlined myriad mitigation measures, including the suspension of normal in-person visiting, decreasing the population density of dorms, providing masks for inmates and staff and "staggered dining, phone calls, and showers."
The outbreak is impacting some reopening plans in Marin County, where San Quentin is located. Gyms, personal services, hotels and short-term rentals, originally slated to reopen on Monday, were "paused," according to Willis.
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"San Quentin is experiencing the largest prison outbreak of COVID-19 in the state," Willis said Friday in a video update. "This has stressed local hospital capacity because at least 25 inmates have required hospitalization within the region."
Newsom said Seton Medical Center is a potential location “if we have to transfer many, many patients into the hospital system from San Quentin.”
The state has identified 110 inmates at San Quentin who are eligible for early release under a program California has been using during the coronavirus pandemic, Newsom said. Inmates who meet specific criteria and are within 180 days of their release date are eligible for early release during the pandemic.
To date, 3,500 inmates have been released and 3,500 more have potential to be released, Newsom said.
But, Newsom added, 70 of the San Quentin inmates identified as eligible for release have nowhere to go.
"Do you make a bad situation worse by releasing someone that’s not ready to be released because they don’t have a place to stay?" Newsom said. "They don’t have a place to go. They don’t have plans in place."
California has seen a spike in coronavirus cases. On Sunday, Newsom announced the mandatory closure of bars in seven counties, including Los Angeles County, the most populous in the state.
The Golden State has the second-highest confirmed case count in the country with more than 222,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.