Trans­fer of pri­son in­mates halted when 2 test pos­i­tive

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - BAY AREA - By Me­gan Cas­sidy, Ja­son Fagone and Rachel Swan Me­gan Cas­sidy, Ja­son Fagone, Rachel Swan and are San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writ­ers. Email: me­gan.cas­sidy@sfchron­i­, ja­son. fagone@sfchron­i­, rswan@sfchron­i­,

In the midst of a ma­jor coro­n­avirus out­break at San Quentin State Pri­son that has thrown the fa­cil­ity into tur­moil, an emer­gency trans­fer of in­car­cer­ated men to a pri­son in the Bak­ers­field area has been halted after two peo­ple on the trans­fer list tested pos­i­tive, The Chron­i­cle has learned.

“Ad­di­tional test­ing for COVID­19 be­ing con­ducted on the in­mates sched­uled for trans­fer revealed two pos­i­tive cases,” Dana Simas, a state cor­rec­tions spokes­woman, said in an email. “Those in­mates are now in iso­la­tion and un­der med­i­cal watch.”

The sched­uled move, an­nounced by the state cor­rec­tions depart­ment Fri­day evening, was heav­ily crit­i­cized by prisoner ad­vo­cates and their loved ones, who said the trans­fer could spread in­fec­tion to an­other pri­son and the men should be re­leased to their com­mu­ni­ties in­stead.

Crit­ics of the plan also said they were baf­fled be­cause a sim­i­lar trans­fer is what touched off the San Quentin out­break in the first place, as The Chron­i­cle has re­ported. San Quentin had no coro­n­avirus cases among its in­car­cer­ated pop­u­la­tion un­til an ill­fated trans­fer late last month from the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tu­tion for Men in Chino — the site of the state pri­son sys­tem’s dead­li­est out­break.

A Chron­i­cle in­ves­ti­ga­tion revealed that 121 men put on buses and brought to San Quentin were not tested for the coro­n­avirus for up to a month be­fore they were bused by the dozens. After the trans­fer, the num­ber of virus cases among San Quentin res­i­dents and staff ex­ploded. By Saturday af­ter­noon, 613 pris­on­ers and more than 80 staff mem­bers were con­firmed to be in­fected, ac­cord­ing to the state’s web tracker.

Be­cause the trans­fer of men from Chino led to such a mess, many in the San Quentin com­mu­nity — res­i­dents, staff and loved ones — had been wor­ried since Fri­day, when the state said it in­tended to trans­fer as many as 150 San Quentin men to North Kern State Pri­son, a fa­cil­ity with 2,200 in­car­cer­ated men in the Cen­tral Val­ley.

Marvin Mutch, a for­mer San Quentin in­mate and di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy with the Prisoner Reentry Network, said he re­ceived pan­icked calls from loved ones of San Quentin res­i­dents. Al­though Mutch and other prisoner ad­vo­cates were glad to hear the trans­fer would not hap­pen, at least not im­me­di­ately, they were shaken.

“I don’t know what they think they’re do­ing,” Mutch said of the cor­rec­tions depart­ment. “It’s re­mark­able, what’s go­ing on. It’s un­be­liev­able.”

Simas, the cor­rec­tions spokes­woman, said: “We un­der­stand and share the con­cern of COVID­19 cases in the state’s pris­ons, and are im­ple­ment­ing mul­ti­ple strate­gies to con­trol the spread of the virus.”

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