[Pnews] "The numbers tell only half the story” - Narratives From San Quentin On COVID-19
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 20 14:16:24 EDT 2020
*"The numbers tell only half the story” - Narratives From San Quentin On
*By Julietta Bisharyan and Nick Gardner - October 20, 2020*
SAN QUENTIN – Accounts from an incarcerated individual at San Quentin State
Prison unveils the unsanitary and unsafe living conditions inside as the
prison continues to recover from its major COVID-19 outbreak.
Through a series of letters, incarcerated comic book artist and
illustrative journalist Orlando Smith shared his experiences with the Davis
Vanguard, writing from inside San Quentin’s 168-year-old prison.
In a previous article
published by the Davis Vanguard, Smith described the filthy conditions he
and other incarcerated people were subject to. At the time, San Quentin had
over 200 active cases. Since then, the number of active cases reported by
CDCR have decreased to just one –– a sharp decline since reaching its peak
of 1,635 cases on Jul. 7.
“I still feel at risk,” Smith, 53, says. “The conditions have not changed.”
Smith says that there are a lot more active cases among the incarcerated
population than what is being reported by CDCR, revealing that most who
become infected with the virus choose to stay quarantined in their cells
rather than alerting medical staff.
“This prison system’s only directive is to use any and all tools as
punitive measures,” says Smith.
Individuals who report their symptoms are moved around and often placed in
tents with no heat. Most were infected before officials started testing, so
symptoms cleared up before testing began.
As for the living conditions, Smith says that he refuses to eat any state
made food, describing the kitchen in San Quentin as “filthy” and with a
rodent infestation. The prison population continues to be on lockdown
status 24/7, now for over 18 weeks, with only two hours a week outside
Incarcerated persons are given two bars of soap a week and one and a half
hours for showering, yard time and/or phone use. With enforced
double-celling, frequent transfers and poor ventilation, it is nearly
impossible to social distance, as recommended by the CDC.
“We have all these nurses and doctors coming in and out, and no one seems
to speak out about this,” Smith adds.
Smith also notes that San Quentin still lacks in cleaning supplies and only
gets disinfected every two and a half weeks, minus any deep scrubbing.
In regard to mask wear, incarcerated persons are given masks but not on a
regular basis. Outside their cells, mask wearing is hardly enforced. A few
guards even refuse to wear masks while at work, or at the very least, while
inside the building.
Smith also believes that prison officials are formulating “herd immunity”
–– a form of indirect protection from infectious disease when a sufficient
percentage of a population becomes immune to an infection ––– to show that
numbers have gone down to keep from mass releases.
In addition, he maintains that the prison outbreaks are being downplayed in
court, particularly in Marin County, as CDCR continues to insist that
conditions have improved and that individuals are being kept safe.
As of Oct. 16, there is only one active case at San Quentin, according to
CDCR. 2,152 cases have been resolved, 58 have been released while active
and 28 individuals have died from complications related to COVID-19.
“The numbers from CDCR tell only half the story,” Smith concludes. “As of
right now, the incarcerated people, in a sense, are nothing more than a
remote, unfortunate abstract.”
*CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes*
As of Oct. 16, there are a total of 15,274 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the
CDCR system – 514 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 3.6% of the cases
are active in custody while 3% have been released while active. Roughly 93%
of confirmed cases have been resolved.
There have been 70 deaths within the CDCR facilities. 27 incarcerated
persons are currently receiving medical care at outside health care
facilities across the state.
On Oct. 14, an incarcerated person from Folsom State Prison (FSP) died at
an outside hospital from what appears to be complications related to
COVID-19. This is the second incarcerated person from FSP to be identified
as a COVID-related death.
CDCR did not identify the individual for medical privacy reasons.
FSP currently has 24 incarcerated persons who are actively positive for
COVID-19. This week, the prison only reported nine new cases while
resolving 62 cases.
In an email response to The Sacramento Bee,
regarding the situation at FSP, CDCR said efforts to mitigate the spread of
COVID-19 at all of its institutions include “mandatory bi-monthly testing
of staff, weekly testing of staff where an outbreak is being reported,
continuing to require the use of facial barriers for staff and the
population, enforcing physical distancing directives, providing appropriate
personal protective equipment to staff and the population, identifying
isolation and quarantine space, conducting contact tracing for both staff
and incarcerated population COVID-19 cases, and regular testing of the
Last week, Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) reported its first COVID-19 case
among its incarcerated population. The following day, the number went back
down to zero. According to Public Information Officer Terry Thornton
the case that showed up on CDCR’s Tracking page was the result of a
recurring data error from June.
On Wednesday, Deuel Vocational Institute (DVI) resolved their only listed
confirmed case. The institution’s cumulative confirmed case number is once
again back down to zero.
Valley State Prison (VSP) has tested the most patients in the last two
weeks –– 79% of its population. Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) has tested
the least during this period, only 4% of its population.
There are currently 92,468 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a
reduction of 21,850 since Mar. 12, 2020, when the prison outbreaks first
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