California prisons suspend in-person visitations amid COVID outbreaks

California

(KTXL) — The California prison system has suspended in-person visits as facilities across the state report COVID-19 outbreaks.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said visits will transition to video-only visits starting Saturday and stay that way until further notice.

One-hour video visits can be scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays, CDCR said.

CDCR cited an increase in cases among inmates and staff for the change in visitation plans. In recent days, several institutions, including Folsom State Prison and California State Prison, Sacramento, have reported that some or all of their facilities have shifted into Phase 1 of CDCR’s visitation roadmap. Phase 1 means the facility has reported three or more COVID-19 cases among inmates in a 14-day period.

By Wednesday, Folsom State Prison had shifted to Phase 1 after reporting 34 cases among inmates in a two-week period. The following day, California State Prison, Sacramento reported Facilities B and C had shifted to Phase 1 of CDCR’s roadmap, with 12 new cases in 14 days and staffing shortages.

Data posted by CDCR shows both prisons tested 50% of their total populations in that time.

In comparison, Folsom State Prison reported 81 new COVID-19 cases among prison staff in the most recent 14-day period. California State Prison, Sacramento also reported 81 new cases among its staff during those two weeks.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is fighting a federal judge’s order that all California prison workers must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or have a religious or medical exemption. The administration argues in part that frequent testing can help limit the virus’s spread.

But large percentages of employees who are required to be tested twice weekly aren’t doing so, “and most of those workers face no consequences,” inmates’ attorneys said in a recent court filing, citing figures that officials now say are suspect.

Corrections officials told the Associated Press they “continue to enforce a mask mandate for all staff, and require unvaccinated workers to wear N95 masks and submit to twice-weekly testing — twice the frequency required” by the California Department of Public Health.

They also said in a statement they are “diligently resolving discrepancies in the staff COVID-19 vaccination and testing data” but can’t yet provide updated statistics.

At the start of the year, inmates statewide had to be fully vaccinated to have in-person or family visits, unless they have approved religious or medical exemptions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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