Hundreds of Donovan State Prison inmates fell ill with COVID-19

More than 400 inmates at Donovan State Prison have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days, making Otay Mesa Jail the site of one of the worst outbreaks of the deadly virus within the state prison system.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported 411 active cases within Donovan on Tuesday. All but three of the cases occurred in the past two weeks.

Donovan officers activated an incident command post, “to ensure immediate communication and coordination between operations, healthcare, and public health experts to address positive COVID-19 cases at the institution,” he said. State Prison Spokesperson Terri Hardy via email.

“Based on public health recommendations, in-person visits have been suspended since March,” he added. The California Department of Corrections “continues to work to safely implement video visitation in all institutions by the end of the year.”

Prison officials are conducting massive testing of the incarcerated population every week, and weekly staff testing is mandatory, Hardy said. The prison is also following isolation and quarantine protocols and medical care guidance for inmates, he said.

None of the cases in Donovan have been fatal, according to the state department of corrections website.

The new coronavirus remains a serious problem within the state’s prisons, which have reported more than 30,000 confirmed cases in facilities across California and 101 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March.

Some 8,400 active cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed system wide in the past two weeks.

In all, the department reported 9,398 active cases – nearly 10 percent of the roughly 97,000 inmates at the state prison.

A Donovan employee said previous outbreaks were generally limited to staff, but lax adherence to safety regulations and protective equipment made inmates sick.

The employee asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to journalists.

The infected inmates are being housed in gyms to help prevent the virus from spreading further, the employee said. The tests have been widely implemented and more skins and other equipment are being distributed.

“They can ask for an N-95 (mask) if they go into areas where there are prisoners, and if it’s an area with COVID-positive prisoners they can get all the PPE (personal protective equipment),” the employee said.

“But some custodial staff do not wear their masks or wear them incorrectly when around prisoners, especially in areas where there are no cameras – like the four courtyards and the housing units,” the employee said.

The worst outbreak in the state prison system is at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, where more than 1,100 patients have been infected in the past two weeks.

The Soledad Correctional Training Center was second in importance, with 879 active cases among inmates and nearly double the number confirmed since March, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Like homes for the elderly and hospitals, jails and prisons across the country have suffered outbreaks of COVID-19 because inmates are housed in cohabiting settings.

San Diego County jails have also experienced severe infection rates in recent weeks and months. The Sheriff’s Department reported Tuesday that a total of 399 inmates and 235 employees have tested positive for the virus since March.

Of those, 190 inmates and 77 employees had active infections, the department said.

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