No, it’s not déjà vu all over again: State says inmate transfers did not cause prison outbreak

Seemingly with every passing hour the number of inmates at Susanville’s High Desert State Prison continues to rise (as of 2:28 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 CDCR reports 260 inmates at the prison have been infected within the last 14 days).

The number of infected residents in Lassen County also continues to rise. Lassencares, the county’s COVID-19 pubic information center, currently reports 65 active cases with four currently hospitalized.

In Plumas County, the Plumas Unified School District changed to distance learning after infected students were identified at multiple schools.

But let’s remember for context, the national media reports the spread of pandemic at record levels all across the nation.

While we may never know why the number of infections is rising in Northeastern California and HDSP, a state official says the outbreak at the prison has nothing to do with inmate transfers.

“This outbreak is not related to inmate transfers,” said Elizabeth Gransee, the deputy director, health care communications for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “During an outbreak CDCR and (the) California Correctional Health Care Services works closely with the institution to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to limit the spread within the facility and community.

“We are holding regular meetings with the institution, headquarters leadership, public health experts and our Department Operations Center. We have increased staff and population testing and are providing N95 masks. We will continue to monitor the situation and deploy resources as needed.

“We are meeting with HDSP leadership on a daily basis at this point in the outbreak to ensure they have adequate resources and are following COVID-19 response guidelines. Additionally, local institution leadership is in frequent communications with Lassen County Public Health to ensure we are coordinating with the community. We will continue to provide necessary support to help get HDSP through this outbreak with as little impact as possible to the institution population, staff and community.”

But Richard Egan, a public information officer for the Lassen County COVID-19 Incident Command Team, said he wished the state institution and agencies would communicate better with both the county and with the media.

Egan said the team believes the outbreak may have originated with prison inmate transfers in September and October.

Egan said the county asked the prison to issue a press release regarding the outbreak yesterday, and they declined. He said the team is trying to gather information and may issue its own press release today.

Egan acknowledged the number of infections in Lassen County is “definitely going up … It’s a pretty significant up-tick. I think it’s going to move us to the red tier … and I anticipate with the numbers we’re getting in, the next week or two we may go to purple … It seems like there’s a real increase, not only here but in Washoe County and pretty much everywhere in our surrounding counties.”

Gransee praised the response efforts by HDSP staff to the outbreak.

“We are very appreciative of our staff and their dedication to keeping our institutions and communities safe. We need to continue these efforts, which includes appropriately wearing a mask, physically distancing and washing hands often. By taking these small steps, we decrease our risk for both becoming infected and unknowingly spreading the virus to others including within our communities.”

Gransee also expressed her best wishes for the health and safety of Lassen County residents, and noted the rise in cases statewide. She said Sacramento County just rose from the red tier to the purple tier due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases there.


Readers respond to our coverage

“I’m writing in regards to the current COVID-19 outbreak at High Desert State Prison. With my significant other being one of the incarcerated individuals at HDSP, I’m hoping to direct your attention to the dangers imposed by this outbreak not only to the prison population, but also to prison staff and therefore the entire community.

“My fiancé reached out to me in order to let me know that hygiene precautions are still being followed very inadequately, that staff still isn’t wearing face masks at all times and that the overall atmosphere is very tense due to the uncertainty and lack of communication on the part of prison officials. In the face of rapidly rising numbers of positive cases, both our loved ones as well as us on the outside are concerned this might soon turn into another ‘San Quentin scenario.’

“Please keep an eye on the situation, as it is our husbands, sons, fathers and loved ones in this prison who are exposed to a lot of anxiety and stress at this point.”

Another reader wrote, “Are the political figures there getting involved? Officers and staff in and out back into the communities. This is not good.”

And another reader wrote, “I am contacting you in regards to the recent COVID outbreak at HDSP. My loved one is housed on D yard. They had no cases just a few days ago. They are now at 260! They have cleared out two whole sections (D7 and D8) to bring in COVID inmates. They are mixing infected inmates with non-infected inmates. The new warden wants non-infected inmates to eat off the same plastic trays that infected inmates have used.

“Please help us bring light to the issues going on HDSP. I fear for my loved one’s health. Yes, he was supplied with a N95 mask, but has been given no type of disinfectant. Phones are not even being disinfected after use. Staff is mingling with staff working (with) infected inmates. It’s absurd.”

Gransee said CDCR is ready and willing to listen to concerns from the community.

“If individuals would like to elevate their concerns, email,” she said.