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Coronavirus spreading through California prisons; 53 corrections officials test positive

Proximity means California prison inmates are at higher risk of spreading the virus.
(Los Angeles Times)

The number of of California prison officials to test positive for coronavirus has jumped to 53.

The latest corrections workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 are two nurses at the state’s medical prison near Stockton. The California Health Care Facility, California’s newest prison, was built as a central place to provide medical care to inmates from across the state. Underlying health conditions put people at greater risk for severe illness or death from the virus.

Internal prison records provided to the Los Angeles Times showed that the nurses, who worked in separate parts of the facility, tested positive on Sunday. In addition, another prison staff member is a “suspected case.” As a result, four sections of the large prison have been put on medical quarantine — requiring staff to wear masks and gloves at all times when in those areas.

Past prison memos showed nurses were ordered not to wear masks unless near a diagnosed patient, and were told to make plans to reuse protective gear while on their rounds to conserve in the face of short supplies.

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Inmates of those housing units, however, have only been ordered to wear protective masks if they have symptoms of a coronavirus infection and leave the quarantined area. Meals are being delivered to cells, and only critical workers are allowed within.

There are no confirmed inmate cases of COVID-19 at the prison, though 17 inmates at three other prisons have tested positive for the virus.

At a hastily called status conference on California prisons amid the pandemic, a federal judge Monday told lawyers for the state to provide information on whether current plans to release some 3,500 inmates up to 60 days early could be tripled, allowing inmates to leave prison six months early. “I don’t see any difference between 180 days and 60 days” in terms of public safety, said U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar. “I see proximate release dates as low-hanging fruit.”

Tigar was part of a panel of three judges that on Saturday said it lacked authority to order mass prison releases and directed inmates’ lawyers to take their case to individual courts.


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