Several men incarcerated in California’s San Quentin State Prison who have tested positive for COVID-19 have gone on a hunger strike to protest what they call “dismal” living conditions, KNTV in San Jose reported Wednesday.
More than 1,100 active coronavirus cases have been reported at San Quentin, California’s oldest prison and home to the state’s only death row. At least one person, a 71-year-old death row inmate, has died of complications from the coronavirus.
The hunger strike at San Quentin, north of San Francisco, began Monday, The Appeal reported. The strikers are protesting inhumane and cramped conditions inside a unit known as the Badger section, where some people with COVID-19 are being housed, two inmates told the publication.
“[T]he cells are filthy and we are not being given cleaner to maintain them,” one man said. “Some of us are being housed together when the whole thing is to keep us six feet away from each other.”
Sources told the NBC affiliate that inmates infected with the virus, about a third of the prison population, were kept quarantined in their cells all day with little to no access to showers, fresh air or electricity. They also described the medical care available to inmates as inadequate.
“It’s bad, it’s bad, please get the word out,” an inmate told The Appeal.
Prison officials confirmed to KNTV that seven inmates had begun refusing meals this week. But the TV station, as well as The Appeal, citing sources, said at least 20 inmates had committed to the hunger strike.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told The Appeal that it was “implementing strategies to control the spread of the virus to protect all those who live and work in our state prison.”
“We understand and share the concerns of COVID-19 cases in the state’s prisons,” the spokesperson said.
California as a whole is grappling with a surge in COVID-19 infections.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) put the brakes on the state’s reopening as infections and hospitalizations have spiked across California. A jump in infections in Marin County is largely attributed to the reported 1,113 inmate and 102 staff cases confirmed at San Quentin, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“The bottom line is the spread of this virus continues at a rate that is particularly concerning,” Newsom said in a video conference as he announced the closures of bars and indoor dining, among other measures, in parts of the state.