Omicron Variant Overwhelms California Prisons

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California prisons have reported a staggering rise in COVID cases among staff this month in the wake of the highly contagious Omicron variant, with infections increasing 212 percent in January and more than 3,800 active cases being reported in dozens of state facilities, reports The Guardian. As cases have risen among the workforce, state prisons have reported 2,358 active infections among incarcerated people over the last two weeks and infections among incarcerated people rose 301 percent between 26 December, 2021 and 2 January, 2022. With 257 active staff cases, the California healthcare facility, Stockton, which houses incarcerated people with long-term medical and mental health needs, currently has the most staff cases of any state prison facility.

The prison has a staff vaccination rate of 84 percent the highest in a state reporting 69 percent of prison workers fully vaccinated overall and three facilities with fewer than 50 percent of staff fully vaccinated. Attorneys for inmates have warned that unvaccinated prison staff could lead to another deadly COVID surge in state facilities, and alleged that workers are failing to undergo twice weekly testing as required as a legal battle over a vaccine mandate for prison workers continues. Since the start of the pandemic, 268 people incarcerated in California prisons have died of COVID-19 and more than 54,000 have been infected. Forty-nine prison staff have died of COVID.

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