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San Quentin COVID-19 Cases Still Rapidly Escalating


Protesters gathered outside San Quentin, Sunday, to demand local officials take action to address the skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 cases inside the prison.

Just one month ago, there were no cases of COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison amongst the incarcerated population. As of Sunday evening, 871 had tested positive for COVID-19. That's more than 21 percent of the prisoners housed there. Aninvestigation from the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that spike in cases was due to a transfer of 121 people from California Institute for Men in San Bernardino County. Fifteen tested positive after their arrival. 

Activists, family members, and formerly incarcerated people spoke to an assembled crowd outside the gates. One was Emile DeWeaver, who spent 21 years incarcerated, including seven at San Quentin:

And the stories that I'm hearing from my family members who were calling from inside is that these people were telling the prison guards that I am positive for COVID do not put me on this bus.

In an effort to control the outbreak, officials were hoping to move incarcerated people from San Quentin to North Kern State Prison. But they stopped the transfer after two people tested positive for COVID-19

DeWeaver read from a list of demands compiled by incarcerated people at San Quentin and beyond. They want all transfers between prisons halted. They want testing for 100% of the prison population. Most notably, they ask Governor Gavin Newsom to grant wider release. DeWeaver said:

There is nothing logistically stopping this state from releasing people to save their lives.

Family members like Shawanda Scott also called for release. Her son is currently incarcerated at San Quentin. She said:


My son was safe. I’m mad, I’m so mad right now. I’m so mad. I’m so mad.

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods called on Newsom to release elderly and vulnerable populations, as well as anyone with less than a year to serve. 

He put a moratorium on the death penalty. He did that. We can thank him for that. But he cannot and we cannot let him replace state sanctioned killing. With a system that killed by neglect.

CDCR has announced a plan that will go into effect Wednesday, July 1, to allow eligible incarcerated people with 180 days or less on their sentence to be released under close supervision. 

That same day, the California Senate Committee on Public Safety will hold a hearing on  coronavirus in prison.

Ninna Gaensler-Debs is a reporter and editor for Crosscurrents. Since 2012, Ninna has worn a variety of hats at KALW - she was both a producer and event planner for Localore project Hear Here. Ninna also programmed and organized the Sights and Sounds live events - two in Bayview, and most recently, one in East Oakland.