The top medical officer for California’s corrections system has been replaced amid a growing coronavirus outbreak among the state’s inmates.
“We are in unprecedented times as we deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” California Correctional Health Care Services Receiver J. Clark Kelso said in a statement.
“In order to meet current response needs while also working toward further delegations of medical care back to state control, it has become evident that a reorganization is necessary for long-term sustainability.”
The move comes while more than 2,350 inmates are currently infected — more than half of whom are inside a single facility, San Quentin State Prison.
According to the state’s department of corrections, there are currently more than 1,300 active cases at San Quentin with nearly 70 percent of those cases popping up in the last two weeks. Six prisoners there have died from the virus, according to state data.
A total of 165 staff members have also tested positive for the virus at San Quentin.
Throughout the pandemic, officials across the US have identified prisons as major hotspots for the virus. But inmates and experts have cautioned social distancing is a tall order in many facilities.
Adnan Khan, executive director for Re:Store Justice, a criminal justice reform advocacy group, said it’s impossible for detainees to follow social distancing protocols and other guidelines by the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.
Khan spent four years in San Quentin housed in North Block, where 800 people share 12 collect call phones and 20 shower heads in the communal bathroom.
“The shower heads are about a foot apart from each other, people get splashed, people cough and spit. It’s unavoidable,” Khan previously told CNN.
To respond to the crisis, the corrections department announced it’s reduced its population by almost 10,000 inmates since March — both by an expedited transition to parole of 3,500 inmates and suspending intake from jails. Officials have also created spaces in the facility to isolate patients who have tested positive and quarantine those exposed to anyone who has the virus.
The facility announced it’s also halted transfers following criticism from state leaders over a late May transfer from California Institution for Men in Chino.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the deadly outbreak at the prison during a press conference Monday, saying that prisoners who were transferred from the California Institution for Men in Chino to San Quentin, spreading the virus to the facility, “should not have been transferred.”