Davis Vanguard’s weekly highlights from CDCR’s COVID-19 crisis
CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes
As of Feb. 19, there have been a total of 48,917 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 819 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 936 cases are active in custody while 698 have been released while active. A total of 47,073 confirmed cases have been resolved since the pandemic emerged.
26 individuals are currently receiving medical care at outside healthcare facilities.
In the past week, three deaths from COVID-related complications were reported at California Medical Facility, Correctional Training Facility and California Men’s Colony, bringing the CDCR death toll to 210.
Officials have withheld their identities citing medical privacy issues.
As of Feb. 19, 60,115 have received first-round vaccines statewide. 24,842 are staff members and 35,273 are incarcerated.
According to Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, prison staff have the right to make healthcare choices, and reassigning them for those choices could be seen as a punitive action by workers or their bargaining units.
Clark Kelso and Dr. Joseph Bick, the department’s health director, told Garcia and her subcommittee that an internal survey about vaccine perception found that a surprising number of employees did not want to get vaccinated.
“They found that about half the people want the vaccine now, and another quarter said ‘I’d like to see my buddy here go first but I want it,” said Bick
Based on a SurveyMonkey poll on the CDCR homepage, only about half of the respondents felt ready for the vaccine. Some expressed hesitancy and others questioned the veracity of the pandemic.
Both Bick and Kelso are open to the idea of separating employees based on their inoculation status.
“The pandemic requires us to step outside the usual,” Garcia said. “The status quo is not appropriate at this time.”
In the past two weeks, Substance Abuse Treatment Facility has tested the most– 55 percent of its population.
CMC has tested the least– 11 percent of its population.
There are currently 94,391 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 28,018 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.
Updates from Plata v. Newsom
This is an on-going case against Gov. Newsom and CDCR advocating for adequate medical care and attention for those in CDCR custody during the pandemic.
Prior to the availability of vaccines, CDCR’s mitigation strategy was reduced to two options. Early release efforts— which continue to accrue support from prison reform advocates and health care experts— have been widely regarded as the most effective means of safeguarding prison populations from COVID-19. But CDCR has opposed this method since its implementation in March, instead favoring social distancing measures.
Regardless, infection rates point to the ineffectiveness of prison retrofitting. Although decarceration is still the ideal solution, vaccinations are CDCR’s preferred method to protect vulnerable individuals from COVID-19 who may otherwise have not been released early. As of January 14, California Correctional Healthcare Services (CCHCS) has identified roughly 9,000 at-risk incarcerated persons who will be prioritized for the vaccine.
As of Feb. 8, nearly 76 percent of all individuals in CDCR custody have either had COVID, or have received their first dose of the vaccine. 68 percent of those who have been offered the vaccine have accepted it. Of this group, 26 percent are incarcerated individuals who have been vaccinated and 39 percent are staff who have been given at least one dose.
Between Feb. 1 – Feb 8, 14,000 vaccinations were administered. As of Feb. 19, CDCR’s total population is nearly 95,000. At this rate, the entire population could be vaccinated in just under two months.
However, CCHCS continues to update their vaccination protocols, more specifically, who is eligible to receive the vaccine. Prior to Feb. 13, incarcerated people was a part of Phase 1B, but, now they are not. According to the CA Dept. of Public Health, Phase 1A is limited to healthcare workers and long-term care residents while Phase 1B is limited to those working in the following industries: emergency services, food/agriculture, education, childcare, and those who are ages 65 and above.
This exclusion could decrease the amount of vaccines available to CCHCS would decrease drastically, meaning it would take even more time for the entire incarcerated population to be successfully vaccinated.
CDCR announced that they have resumed intake from county jails, which had previously been suspended in compliance with prison population reduction efforts. The week of Jan. 11 saw 104 and 76 incarcerated persons admitted to North Kern State Prison and Wasco State Prison, respectively.
Housing the Medically Vulnerable
CDCR and CCHCS announced that the mandated movement of medically vulnerable individuals from common airspace housing to solid-door cell housing has been suspended out of concerns that movement will spike cases. Poor ventilation has severely limited the success of mitigation measures, specifically the absence of outside air flow.
On Dec. 18, CDCR issued a statewide memorandum ordering all prisons to replace existing MERV-8 on Air Handling Units (AHU’s) with MERV-13 filters better fitted to “reduce airborne transmission of COVID-19.” This follows a report documenting greater efficiency in 7 prisons already operating MERV-13 filters.
As of Feb. 12, these filters have been installed in units at Chuckawalla State Prison, Valley State Prison and RJ Donovan. They will continue to be installed in other facilities even though 15 facilities claim to operate on 100 percent outside air to support indoor ventilation.
However, CDCR has failed to utilize solid-door cells for quarantine and has not mandated the same.
Inmate Testing and Transfer Protocol
CDCR announced that inter-prison transfers will continue but in a reduced capacity due to large statewide outbreaks.
Furthermore, the Movement Matrix that has been used to govern quarantine protocols since August 19 has been revised. This revised matrix, sent to the CCHCS on Jan. 12, will allow individuals who tested positive for COVID in the past 90 days to avoid quarantine (including transfers for this purpose) and testing requirements. As for intra-prison movement, the revised matrix claimed that “inmates who are symptomatic and/or test positive shall not be transferred and shall be isolated as per interim guidance.”
Staff Screening and Testing
Nearly 14,000 CDCR staff have contracted COVID-19 since March. As of January 12, 2,500 employees were out of work battling an active case. CCHCS reported increases in staff testing at certain facilities, however bi-weekly reports of staff noncompliance show a prevalent trend of disobedience.
From Dec. 16 to Dec. 29, 50 incidents of noncompliance were reported among medical staff and 100 were reported among custody staff.
As of Feb. 9, 64 staff members have been put on leave without pay for failing to comply since Dec. 21. Surprisingly, CDCR allows staff members who exhibit virus-related symptoms upon the entrance screening to be sent home, but are not required to isolate or even get tested. With that being said, staff can return to work the next day.
Both CDCR and CCHCS lack an efficient process to identify which employees failed to complete testing. Their current method involves staff reviewing a list of employees who tested the week before, then they compare it to the list of employees who worked that week, and then investigate those who worked, but did not participate in testing. CCHCS defended its process, but said it would revise the method by March 15 to make sure staff are asked if they have participated in testing upon the entrance screening process before shifts.
Quarantine and Isolation
Given the poor quarantine and isolation conditions in CDCR facilities, many are refusing to move into these designated areas. Previous stories from individuals at CSP Solano, San Quentin, and CA Medical Facility have described that during quarantine, medical staff neglect COVID-positive patients, do not provide basic over-the-counter medications (i.e. Tylenol), and leave sick patients unattended for days.
Majority of these facilities are already overcrowded, including the quarantine units. For those refusing testing, they fear losing their cell, cellmate, and even their property.
The pandemic has been ongoing for almost a year yet changes within CDCR are proceeding very slowly. We are yet to see major improvements in quarantine and isolation conditions and even compliance from staff members.
While pushing for major changes within CDCR’s handling of the pandemic, the Prison Law Office, which is litigating Plata v. Newsom emphasizes, “It was clear…that a substantial population of incarcerated people in California deeply mistrust the custody and medical leadership in the prisons, and may not agree to the moves under any conditions. We cannot stress enough the importance of ameliorating this mistrust in order to achieve a healthy, functioning health care system.”
There have been at least 15,652 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 25 staff members have died while 15,185 have returned to work. 467 are still active.
CDCR Comparisons – California and the US
According to the Marshall Project, California prisons rank first in the country for the highest number of confirmed cases. Federal prisons follow closely behind while Texas ranks third.
California makes up 12.8 percent of total cases among incarcerated people and 8.6 percent of the total deaths in prison.
California also makes up 15 percent of total cases and 14 percent of total deaths among prison staff.
Division of Juvenile Justice
As of Feb. 19, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice facilities. 203 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June.
By Julietta Bisharyan, Nick Gardner and Jaskiran Soomal