Let’s cut straight to the chase. Today’s CDCR ticker is showing 1,343 new cases and only three prisons with no cases (one of them is San Quentin, which may be why we are not hearing as much about this as we should.) CDCR has 313 cases, Wasco 285, CIM (which gets battered with every COVID wave) 229, and North Kern 104. Smaller but still worrisome outbreaks are present throughout the system.

Unsurprisingly, the same is happening in county jails: Yesterday, Darby Aono, who is keeping tabs on Santa Rita, reported on twitter that there were 177 cases among jail population and 54 among the staff. And the UCLA COVID-19-Behind-Bars Data Project is reporting spikes in hundreds of prisons and jails nationwide.

The immediate response at CDCR and in some counties (such as San Mateo) has been to suspend visitation. But what about the people who come in and out of prison every day, namely, the staff? The partial vaccination requirement is in place, resulting in 46% of staff still unvaccinated after all this.

To recap, after everything we’ve been through:

  • There have been 53,261 cases of COVID-19 at CDCR, some of which are reinfections.
  • 246 incarcerated people have died of COVID, four of them recently.
  • The prison population is 80% vaccinated. The prison staff vaccination rate hovers around 54%.
  • Our science-minded Governor and Attorney General are supporting prison guards in their efforts to shirk mandatory vaccination even as they mandate the vaccine in all other areas of life, including schools. Their appeal of the order to vaccinate is pending.
  • The Ninth Circuit has reversed the District Court decision and placed a stay upon the vaccine mandate, even as there are now prisons with hundreds of cases.
  • The institutional response, rather than immediately ordering the staff to vaccinate, has been to suspend visitation (which could have been conditioned, like everything else, on showing a vaccination record).
  • Jails are seeing spikes, and the vaccination rates there are much lower than in prisons, for both the population and the staff.

CDCR, CCPOA, and the administration insists that the measures they have adopted (including the partial vaccination requirement) are sufficient, but it turns out that even these partial measures are not being followed. I’ve recently received correspondence about conditions at CMF in Vacaville, where aging and infirm people are housed. CMF currently has, according to the ticker, only two active cases, and given the explosion of Omicron everywhere else, there are particular worries because of the vulnerability of this population. Nonetheless, at the last case management conference of Plata v. Newsom, the petitioners’ attorneys reported a serious lack of enforcement at CMF and CHCF of the Aug. 19 public health order requiring prison staff who work in healthcare settings to have been vaccinated by Oct. 14.

The problem is specifically with contracted staff, who account for 26% of CMF’s overall staff and are only 37% compliant with the public health order. At CHCF, contracted staff account for 17%, and the compliance rate is 61%. Many of those contractors are medical personnel who, as explained above, are interacting with the most ,some of the oldest and most medically vulnerable incarcerated people in the state. When the issue was raised at the conference, the state representatives did not dispute the numbers–rather, they admitted familiarity with the problem–and the conference simply moved on.

What more is there to say? Omicron is here, and we’ve learned nothing.

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