20191127-bc-PrisonEthics

The California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.

A handful of Kern County prisons haven't been spared as COVID-19 has spread like wildfire through some California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation institutions.

As of July 8, the California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi has reported 134 total cases, 32 new ones coming in the last 14 days, according to CDCR COVID-19 tracking. Of the prison’s 3,711 total inmates, 185 have been tested in the past 14 days.

The prison hadn't encountered any positive cases until June 16, according to CDCR.

“Prior to reporting its first positive test among the incarcerated population, CCI was conducting surveillance testing of the inmate population in an effort to immediately identify any potential COVID-19 exposure,” wrote Lt. Nadia Erwin, public information officer for the CCI, in a July 2 email.

“As soon as a positive COVID-19 case was reported among the incarcerated population, CCI quickly moved to test all incarcerated persons at the institution."

Additionally, CCI has had a total of 83 staff members test positive, with nine returning to work. Since March 18, CCI has conducted verbal and temperature screening of all those entering state prisons, according to Terri Hardy from CDCR’s press office.

Additionally, CDCR has provided multiple reusable cloth barrier masks and hand sanitizer to staff and those incarcerated, and have mandated their use while moving throughout the institution, Hardy said. CDCR has strictly limited incarcerated movement to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 between housing facilities at the institutions.

“Many things are standardized (throughout the CDCR system),” Hardy said.

Wasco State Prison has had the second-highest number of cases locally, with 21 active, 11 of which were recorded in the last 14 days. Twelve inmates have recovered, according to CDCR.

CCI and Wasco State Prison have released six inmates actively positive with COVID-19. Hardy explained CDCR doesn't have any authority to hold an offender past their scheduled release date.

However, there may be some additional measures coming to help COVID-19 positive inmates safely transition out of incarceration.

“We are partnering with state and local agencies to identify housing accommodations to people released from state prison, and who have a need to safely quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19 exposure or positive status, but do not have housing in place to do so,” Hardy said.

On July 8, there were 59 total COVID-19 cases recorded in the 93561 ZIP code — where CCI is located in Tehachapi — which is 75 less than CDCR's reported number.

Kern County Public Health and Services Department spokesperson Michelle Corson said July 6 that cases in prisons are included in the daily virus tracker on the department's website. She acknowledged, however, the possibility of a delay.

“There could be a delay of those cases showing up on our Dashboard when comparing to the CCI website,” Corson said.

Corson said inmate cases should be accounted for in the ZIP code the prison is located, while staff cases are accounted for in their home communities.

“State and testing case information is uploaded to the Patient Tracker as soon as it’s recorded into the (California Correctional Health Care Services) electronic health record system so it’s an immediate update,” Hardy said.

“We are working closely with our local partners to ensure we’re providing information as quickly as possible.”

North Kern State Prison in Delano currently has seven active cases, one over the last 14 days, according to CDCR. Both California City Correctional Facility and Kern Valley State Prison don't have any current active cases as of July 8, with the latter having one recovered inmate.

More than a third of the 3,593 inmates at San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco have tested positive since officials transferred 121 inmates from the heavily impacted California Institution for Men in Chino on May 30 without properly testing them for infections, according to the Associated Press.

Tehachapi News reporter Darla A. Baker contributed to this report.

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