Two more people incarcerated in California prisons have died while being treated for COVID-19.
Both died in the hospital on Wednesday. Sixty-four year old Jeffrey Hawkins was on death row in San Quentin State Prison. The other man was not identified, but was incarcerated at the same Chino prison that's been blamed for the coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin when prisoners were transferred from Chino to the other facility. In total, 39 inmates in the California prison system have now died from complications of COVID-19.
"We need help in here and the help isn’t coming soon enough," said Tijue McGhee, who is being housed in San Quentin's gym and so far has tested negative for the coronavirus.
At a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar said the state’s recent move to release up to 8,000 inmates quickly is a significant step in the right direction.
"While the 8,000 number sounds like a lot, the number that I’ve been holding on to more are the five people who have died throughout the state from COVID since the plan itself was announced," said James King, a former San Quentin inmate who now works as an advocate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Advocates and family members have raised questions for months about the conditions inside the prison, saying negligence allowed the virus to spread quickly.
Derry Brown spent about one week at an onsite hospital in San Quentin for a medical evaluation unrelated to COVID-19.
"They did have guys in there with COVID. So when I first got there they tested me and then it came back negative," he told KCBS Radio. "So they keep you in the cells 24 hours a day."
Now, he is also staying in the gym and getting regular breathing checks. While officials have suspended phone access for many inmates to limit movement within the prison, Brown said some accommodations have been made.
"They came into the gym and one of the phones that was right next to another phone, they just moved it over six feet. So that’s why we in the gym are allowed to make phone calls," he said.
But, McGhee says it will take more than some accommodations to make sure that his life and the lives of others are protected.
"I know the courts run slow, but they run efficient. And I hope that they are efficient in decision making and the assistance of those whose lives have been threatened by their caretakers."
King agrees. "Hold on to the urgency of this moment. We need bold action now because the deaths are going to continue to rise without it."