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6th Terminal Island prisoner dies of COVID-19; congresswoman says Fauci ‘a little alarmed’

Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island in San Pedro
More than half of the inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island in San Pedro have tested positive for COVID-19.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

A sixth inmate at the Terminal Island federal prison in San Pedro has died after testing positive for the coronavirus infection. And with more than 60% of inmates there testing positive, a local congresswoman said infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci “seemed a little alarmed” when she spoke to him about the situation.

Eduardo Robles-Holguin, 58, died Monday in a hospital nine days after he reported COVID-19 symptoms to the medical staff at the Terminal Island prison, where some 623 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. On April 25, after being assessed at the prison medical facility, Robles-Holguin was taken to a hospital and, that same day, was placed on a ventilator and tested positive for the virus, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. On Monday, he was pronounced dead.

He is one of 40 federal prison inmates to die from a coronavirus-related illness nationwide during the pandemic.

In January, Robles-Holguin began serving a 20-month sentence for violating terms of supervised release, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

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About 1,984 federal inmates have tested positive and so have 356 Bureau of Prison staff, including 14 employees at Terminal Island.

Over the weekend, family members of inmates held protests outside the facility, which has the worst coronavirus outbreak of any federal prison in the U.S.

Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan, a Democrat who represents the area, said in an interview that she told the warden not enough was being done to release inmates under provisions announced by U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr at the low-security facility that houses just over a 1,000 medically vulnerable inmates. She said she also took her concerns about the level of spread within the facility to one of President Trump’s top officials handling the virus outbreak, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“I was on the phone with Dr. Fauci and brought up Terminal Island,” Barragan said. “He seemed a little alarmed.”

She said she explained to Fauci that more than 60% of the inmates had tested positive and that he told her he would look into it.

Barragan said after she spoke to the prison’s warden, Felicia Ponce, last week she was disappointed at the response and the effort to protect inmates and prevent the spread. She said she raised questions about the protocols in place to keep inmates safely spread out and to keep those who tested positive and others needing quarantining apart from other inmates.

Bureau of Prisons officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment but previously said that inmates were being treated at a medical facility at the prison and were being spaced apart through use of areas in the facility usually used for a factory and military facilities usually used by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Barragan said she asked how many of the inmates had been given consideration for a program supported by Barr for home confinement for some vulnerable inmates. She said she was disappointed to learn just 46 inmates had been considered under that program, with just five as of last week being released.

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She said many inmates should be eligible for the program. “If I am an inmate, I don’t have a choice to leave,” she said. “I cannot socially distance.”

Federal prison officials have attributed the high number of infections at Terminal Island to Los Angeles County Public Health’s testing of hundreds of inmates at the facility, including those who show no symptoms. Last week, federal officials said, of those tested, only 10% showed symptoms at the time.


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