Donovan State Prison Staffer Tests Positive for Coronavirus

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Donovan State Prison Staffer Tests Positive for Coronavirus

Inmates, staff members and attorneys have raised the alarm that the conditions in the facility, which houses medically vulnerable inmates, could fuel the spread of the virus.

The Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A staff member at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state prison is a medical hub for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and several stakeholders, including inmates and staff, have raised the alarm that if the virus took hold in the facility, it could be particularly deadly because it houses many medically vulnerable inmates.

In a memo that went out to Donovan staff Monday, the facility’s warden and chief executive officer said they were in communication with San Diego County public health officials, California Correctional Health Care Services and the California Department of Corrections headquarters.

There were no further details provided about the role of the staff member or who he or she may have come into contact with.

“Out of respect for their privacy, we will not be sharing specific details about their condition,” the memo reads.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also said it could not provide more information about the case.

“CDCR and CCHCS are working closely with the San Diego County Department of Public Health to conduct a contact investigation to determine what, if any, exposure may have occurred to staff or the incarcerated population,” said Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas. “That investigation is currently underway so we do not have further details.”

As of Tuesday, 19 people incarcerated at Donovan had been tested for coronavirus. The facility was at 127 percent capacity as of April 15, with 3,811 inmates.

An inability to social distance, inadequate hygiene in shared areas like showers and inconsistency in how different parts of the prison implement measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus are among the concerns stakeholders highlighted to Voice of San Diego about the facility.

“Some people feel like they’ve been given a possible death sentence,” Penny Godbold, an attorney at Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld, who represents clients with disabilities incarcerated at Donovan, previously told me.

The case was not added to the Corrections Department’s public coronavirus tracker on Monday, but Simas said it would be added Tuesday evening and that reports of staff cases first need to be confirmed with county departments of health, which hadn’t happened Monday.

Donovan is not the only detention facility in San Diego County that has had a positive coronavirus case.

The Otay Mesa Detention Center has the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases of all Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in the United States. As of the end of last week, 18 ICE detainees, nine U.S. Marshals Service inmates, 10 CoreCivic employees and eight medical staff members had tested positive for the virus, the Union-Tribune reported.

Five Sheriff’s department employees have tested positive for the virus, as well as one inmate in custody in a county jail. Fifty-one people are in isolation in county jails out of coronavirus-related precautions.

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