San Quentin State Prison officials were explicitly warned they were courting a public-health disaster as early as June 1 but disregarded that and a series of other recommendations as California’s oldest prison went on to become one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 hot spots, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. So far, 2,400 prisoners and staff have been infected and 26 have died.
The first warning came in a conference call between Dr. Matthew Willis, Marin County’s top public health officer, and acting Warden Ron Broomfield. Willis had learned that 122 prisoners had not been tested for weeks before they were transferred to San Quentin from a coronavirus hot spot in Chino. Willis said his warning was dismissed. “It’s extremely frustrating to watch this unfold from the margins,” Willis told The Chronicle. The prison system’s general counsel has said local health officials cannot issue valid orders to state prisons, even though Willis’ office has historically had influence over San Quentin health practices like flu vaccines. Willis said county health officials recommended the prison require all those inside San Quentin to wear masks, and that staff movement be restricted between different housing units. But the prison told county officials the latter wasn’t feasible, he said.