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Parts of Calif.'s San Quentin prison in quarantine

An inmate advocate tweeted that two buildings are under lockdown due to some inmates experiencing “flu-like symptoms”


A ferry view of San Quentin prison.

Photo/Sara Skelton of Dreamstime via TNS

By Paige St. John
Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The inmates in two cellblocks at San Quentin State Prison are quarantined off from the rest of the Bay Area prison, but California prison officials say there is no indication that the prison is dealing with the coronavirus.

Internal memos point out that it may take days to find out.

Late Saturday, an inmate advocate tweeted a post that two buildings were under lockdown. “Pray/send energy for everyone,” wrote Adnan Khan, co-executive director of Re:store Justice and a former San Quentin inmate. He followed up with a post clarifying there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases, but there are “flu-like symptoms.”

A spokeswoman for the state corrections department, Dana Simas, on Sunday morning responded to a request to confirm the quarantine with an email stating, “There’s no indication that there was a potential COVID-19 exposure or that this is COVID-19 related.”

“If we determine a potential exposure or the medical team believe it to be related,” Simas wrote, “it will be something about which we will immediately update the media.“

Prison medical services in California are run by a federal receiver and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The corrections department has not yet provided copies of protocols to deal with the coronavirus within the prisons, requested three weeks ago by The Times under California’s Public Records Act.

But an internal policy memo obtained by The Times instructs prison medical staff to first test any inmates who show signs of illness for the flu. Only if those tests come back negative are the sick inmates to be tested for COVID-19.

The memo notes that a private diagnostic lab may not be able to return the results of those tests for three to four days because of anticipated demand.

Amid increasing community spread of the virus in California and concerns raised by epidemiologists and inmate advocates of the heightened risk the virus poses to inmates with little ability to isolate or sanitize, state prison officials began publicizing measures to limit potential exposure to the virus last week.

Routine visitations at all prisons were halted Wednesday, and Sunday the agency announced it was also halting overnight family visits. The prison system said inmates have adequate access to hospital-grade disinfectants to clean their cells.

Beginning Friday, the prison system began screening workers and volunteers at prison entrances, asking questions about possible exposure to the coronavirus.

The policy memo instructs prison administrators to gather the needed equipment to begin taking the temperatures of all those entering the state’s mostly time-worn, crowded prisons. As of Wednesday there were more than 117,000 inmates in state-owned prisons and camps, and some 4,200 in private lockups.

The massive granite block San Quentin prison, built in 1852 on a Marin County bluff overlooking the bay, is the oldest prison in the state. It houses more than 4,000 inmates, including all of the state’s male death row population. It was designed to hold a little over 3,000.


©2020 Los Angeles Times

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