By Jacqueline Nguyen
SACRAMENTO, CA— On Sept. 27, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ruled that all prison guards must be vaccinated against COVID-19, set to take effect on Friday, Oct. 15. However, on Oct. 13, a temporary restraining order was put in place that prevented the enforcement of these vaccination requirements.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, upwards of 21,000 California state prison guards have tested positive for COVID-19, 39 of which have died as a result. As for California state prisoners, over 51,000 have tested positive of which 241 died. Studies have shown that as the infection rate spurs in the outer community, so too does the rate grow within the incarcerated population as 48 outbreaks have been traced back to prison staff.
These studies suggest that it is highly plausible that prison guards are responsible for bringing the virus into prisons. This is a concerning realization given that as of Oct. 14 only 61% of prison staff had been vaccinated.
Following an outbreak on Aug. 21 at State Quentin State Prison that killed 28 inmates, J. Clark Kelso, a federal court-appointed receiver overseeing California’s prison’s medical care argued that since Aug. 2021, there have been 11 COVID-related deaths among correction employees and 21 prison outbreaks.
Since the vaccine had been released to the general public, Governor Gavin Newsom has been a proponent of vaccinating all eligible populations within California.
In a statement on July 26, Governor Newsom stated, “We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant […] Vaccines are safe – they protect our family, those who truly can’t get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic.”
The governor supports using the vaccine as a means of controlling and conquering COVID-19, calling it the scientific approach. However, when it comes to mandating prison guards to get the vaccine, this urgency seems to dissipate. Why?
The Mercury News shares that there may be a political motive behind it. Following the approval of the sweetheart deal, where the state of California agreed to pay prison guards $100,000 a year, the governor gained mass support from the prison staff community. The CCPOA cut a $1.75 million check, which encouraged the Service Employees International Union (made up of about 12,000 prison staff) to follow suit, handing over another $5.5 million to back the Governor against being recalled.
Despite Governor Newsom’s and the CCPOA’s wishes, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ruled in favor of the mandate, which was set to be in effect on Oct.14.
However, just one day prior, Kern County Judge Bernard granted a preliminary injunction, issuing a temporary restraining order that prevents the enforcement of the vaccination on unionized guards and peace officers, to the relief of Governor Newsom and the CCPOA. For other workers at prisons that have health care facilities, Judge Jon Tigar’s ruling still stands.
The temporary restraining order will be in place until Oct. 22 where it will get a new hearing by the U.S. Ninth Circuit.