'Many errors that led to this crisis': Officials say they warned of San Quentin Prison's COVID-19 outbreak

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In Marin County, health officials are growing increasingly concerned about the latest coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin Prison, where cases are surging with no sign of slowing.

According to officials, when the weekend started there was about 100 infections at San Quentin, on Monday the cases topped 300. On Tuesday, according to data on the CDCR website, 407 inmates and 47 staff members were infected, bringing the case total to 454.

"There was a series of gaffes, many errors that led to this crisis," said California Assembly member, Marc Levine, who represents Southern Sonoma County and Marin County.

"All of us should be concerned particularly as our local hospital systems are threatened by being overwhelmed."

There are almost 4,000 staff and inmates at San Quentin. Levine says the COVID-19 outbreak will likely top 800 people.

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"If the corrections department had planned ahead of time, if they'd listened to public health protocols, we wouldn't be in the situation that we're in," said Levine, who worries CDCR has not been paying attention to medical officials. "I am concerned that health professionals don't have decision making authority at CDCR, and those that do may have made very bad decisions."

"Prisons are a setup for outbreaks right off the bat because you have large numbers of people, very close confinement," said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County's Public Health Officer.

"As soon as the pandemic began, one of the first concerns was reaching out to San Quentin," said Dr. Willis, who explained that, "We were told by CDCR very clearly that this is not part of our jurisdiction."

According to the Department of Corrections, San Quentin was virus-free up until late May.

Willis says the surge started after inmates were transferred out of a prison in Chino, where there was an outbreak, to San Quentin three weeks ago. He says Marin's health department was not informed of the transfer until after it happened.

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Willis says the prison is not equipped to treat hundreds of infected inmates. "I'm concerned that we would be potentially using beds in our hospitals that would otherwise be available for our own community."

Tara, who did not want to use her last name, says her 65-year-old father was transferred from the Chino facility to San Quentin in the middle of the night.

"He's been telling us that a lot of people that he's been in quarters with have become sick and that he's been tested several times but that he's been negative each time."

She hasn't heard from her father in several days and is concerned about his health and safety.

"I'm not saying that every person who committed a crime should just go free, but they haven't been sentenced to death either and we can't control this."

Dr. Willis says there are currently 9 COVID-19 patients in Marin's 3 hospitals, which have a total of 420 beds. Based on those numbers, he says there is not an imminent health threat to the community.

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