Last week, a Lassen News reader sent us the following message: “High Desert State Prison is taking healthy inmates and putting them with inmates who are testing positive for the virus. Please help. My son is there.”
Lassen News reached out to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for comment, and Aaron Francis, a CDCR public information officer offered this response:
The reports of COVID-positive inmates being integrated with the rest of HDSP’s incarcerated population are inaccurate. HDSP is following isolation and quarantine protocols per public health and health care guidance for the incarcerated population. Additional isolation and quarantine space has been made available on-grounds for those who test positive or are identified as a close contact. Inmates with active cases of COVID-19 are housed separately from the rest of the incarcerated population.
The well-being and safety of the incarcerated population and staff within CDCR and CCHCS is our top priority. We continue to respond to positive COVID-19 cases at High Desert State Prison with coordinated efforts to increase the frequency of testing, conduct contact tracing and implement isolation and quarantine measures to mitigate spread of COVID-19.
HDSP is currently administering COVID vaccinations to staff and the incarcerated population. As of Jan. 18, 24,445 individuals have received first round vaccines statewide (staff: 21,165; patients: 3,280.) We are prioritizing vaccine distribution in a manner that is consistent with CDPH guidelines. It is our intent to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all CDCR and CCHCS employees and incarcerated individuals.
HDSP continues to conduct mass testing of the population. Patients identified as medically high risk for COVID-19 complications and those that are immunocompromised are tested every three to five days.
Mandatory staff testing is taking place weekly at HDSP. Further information regarding the process for staff and incarcerated population testing can be found at cdcr.ca.gov/covid19/covid-19-response-efforts/.
Additional staffing resources have been redirected to HDSP to assist with patient care.
All institution staff are required to wear procedure (surgical) masks while performing duties on institution grounds, and additional personal protective equipment if required based on public health guidance. N95 masks and other PPE have been provided to all staff and to all inmates that request them. Additionally, all staff are screened verbally and by temperature check whenever entering institution grounds. All inmates have been provided numerous cloth facial barriers and are regularly provided cleaning supplies, with additional supplies provided upon request.
CDCR and CCHCS have an established supply of PPE to ensure ample equipment is immediately available to address COVID-19 at all institutions to protect staff and the incarcerated population.
In July, HDSP established an Incident Command Post to ensure immediate communication and coordination between operations, health care, and public health experts to address positive COVID-19 cases at the institution.
Based on public health recommendations, in-person visiting has been suspended since March. CDCR continues to work towards safely and securely implementing video visiting at all institutions by the end of the year.