By Julietta Bisharyan
This report is written by the Covid In-Custody Project — an independent journalism project that partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic in California’s county jails and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to the public eye. Refer to our website to view and download the raw data.
Bart tested negative four times at California State Prison, Solano (SOL) before testing positive in December. He was subsequently placed in isolation.
His fiancé, Lily, wrote to us regarding his experience with COVID-19 behind bars.
Bart did not show any symptoms before he was transferred to the quarantine unit. Further, although he tested positive, medical staff did not test his bunkmate.
For eight months, SOL had only nine positive cases. According Lily, the virus began to spread after people from other prisons were transferred in. Currently, there are 286 active cases at the facility.
Lily wrote to the warden asking why her loved one was forced to reside in a gym with no heat, no hot water and no cleaning supplies, two shower heads for 80 men and mice running everywhere.
“This is negligence and a huge safety issue for all involved including your own employees and the chance they could bring this home to their own families due to lack of proper handling and treatment,” she wrote.
The building Bart was initially in had a major fault in the ceiling causing water to drip into his cell. When he asked to be moved or for something to contain the water, a CO gave him a sheet to soak it up. They left the sheet there to catch the water as it continued to leak.
The entire building was tested three days later, and Bart tested positive despite not showing any symptoms. He was asked to pack up his things and was moved to the prison’s gym to be quarantined.
Bart asked to be retested since rapid testing had been found to yield false positives. Medical staff informed him that he was not allowed to be retested for another 90 days. If he showed no symptoms, he would be placed back into the building after 14 days. If he showed symptoms, he would be placed back after 21 days.
“How is this protecting the men and stopping the spread? You could possibly be placing infected people back in with the others causing more of an outbreak,” wrote Lily.
Bart was housed with 80 other patients, many of whom are elderly and disabled. He says most men in the isolation unit with incorrect test results, would surely contract the virus in this ward because the staff did not sanitize the cells between transfers.
He currently does not have any fever symptoms other than a stuffy nose and a loss of smell. He developed these symptoms four days after being placed in quarantine.
Officials have since been moving sick patients back into the buildings, spreading the virus even further. Trash bags from the gym are tossed in regular bags rather than red biohazard bags for the porters to pick up and throw out in the trash bins.
Inside the gym, the bunks are spaced 4 by 2 and 8 rows deep holding 80 men in total. The bottom bunks are used for social distancing. However, Bart says that they are beginning to move more people in and put them on the top bunks.
Twice a day, the medical staff test vitals and temperatures and ask about symptoms.
Bart recalls one incident where a man nearly died, requiring officials to call in an ambulance to give him medical attention and chest compressions. The man survived but is severely unwell.
Bart says the gym is so cold, you could see your breath. At every corner, patients are curled up in fetal positions with blankets to keep them warm.
A few days later, Bart was moved into a smaller building, with about 100 other men under quarantine. Some men were being moved back into their buildings without being retested to confirm that they were COVID free. Many have expressed fear of further spreading the virus.
Out of the 200 beds in the small building, 196 of them are filled. Only one shower is working.
Bart was eventually released from quarantine and was required to place all his belongings in the chapel for 72 hours after he was moved.
He says officials are continuing to mix sick patients with individuals who are yet to be tested. He also observes several people walking around without a mask.
“It’s a pointing fingers issue between [administrators] while our loved ones are dealing with the consequences,” she said. “My fiancé and other guys were watching the news where Gov. Newsom was giving props to CDCR for their handling of COVID-19 in the prisons, and they were completely baffled because it is not being handled in the way the public is hearing.”
Video visitation has also been implemented in lieu of limiting in-person contact. Lily says she has not seen her fiancé’s face in 11 months and has tried requesting for a video visitation three times to no avail.
“We want to see our loved ones, and we want CDCR to provide them with a safe and sanitary place to dwell in. We don’t feel they’re doing much to protect our loved ones.”
* Name changed to protect identity