Coronavirus Cases Surge In California Prisons — Again

Coronavirus cases have surged in California’s prisons — again — as the omicron variant spreads across the country.

There are over 2,300 active COVID-19 cases among incarcerated people in California prisons currently — up from some 52 reported cases in early December.

Half a dozen state prisons have seen COVID-19 outbreaks of over 100 new cases in the last two weeks.

And more than 3,800 prison employees in California currently have COVID-19. Staffers aren’t required to be vaccinated unless they work in health care roles.

The state’s corrections department said in a statement that the agency “has been taking immediate steps to protect those who live in, work at and visit our state prisons,” noting that hospitalizations are low (three incarcerated people are currently hospitalized) and 80% of those incarcerated and 69% of staff are fully vaccinated.

Since the start of the pandemic, a reported 246 people incarcerated in California’s prisons have died from the virus.

An inspector general’s report last year slammed California’s correctional department for causing an outbreak at San Quentin prison that infected some 2,000 incarcerated people and killed over two dozen.

The front gate of San Quentin State Prison on June 29, 2020, in California.
The front gate of San Quentin State Prison on June 29, 2020, in California.
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

In California, as in the rest of the country, Black and Latinx people are disproportionately incarcerated, as well as disproportionately hard-hit by the coronavirus.

The U.S. has seen a steep climb in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads. Hospitalizations and deaths remain low for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Previous jumps in COVID cases at California prisons in the summer and winter of 2020 led advocates to demand a dramatic reduction in the state’s prison population.

While the state has released thousands of people from prisons in the last couple of years — reducing California’s prison population from some 122,000 incarcerated people in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, to nearly 100,000 today — advocates have said that is not enough.

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