“They’re slow to act,” families of inmates at Avenal State Prison fear COVID-19 outbreak is out of hand

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AVENAL, California (KGPE) – A COVID-19 outbreak at Avenal State Prison in Kings County is on the rise. 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported at least 198 inmates have tested positive for the virus as of Monday morning. The positive cases in the prison account for nearly 30% of the total cases in Kings County. 

“They’re slow to act it’s just really,really frustrating,” said Cynthia Frias. 

Her husband is serving a life sentence in Avenal State Prison. 

Among California correctional facilities, Avenal State Prison has the second-largest outbreak after the California Institution for Men in Chino, where nine inmates have died and more than 500 others have been infected including staff. 

“The goal is to have all inmates and employees tested and then to have a plan for ongoing testing,” said Nichole Fisher, Nursing Division Manager with the Kings County Health Department. 

Fisher says two people from the prison have been hospitalized and they are testing a few hundred a day. She says the health department is providing the prison with 4,000 swabs to help increase testing capabilities. They are also working with local hospitals to make sure they are prepared for a potential surge, she says. 

RELATED: Over a hundred COVID-19 cases at Avenal State Prison have been reported

Health officials say inmates who test positive are isolated and those who had close contact with positive cases are quarantined. They say all employees at the prison are being screened when they arrive to work with temperature checks. 

The health department says all inmates and staff are to wear masks. 

“We are working very closely with organizations that have a lot of employees and assuring them we can assist them before the situation gets out of hand,” said Fisher. 

Frias worries it’s too late and she doesn’t feel her husband or staff are safe inside the prison. 

“When they come in and do their shift change. They’re still shaking hands, and they’re still doing fist bumps, you know they’re doing that brotherly camaraderie hug. How can you keep it from entering when you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do?” said Frias.

Her husband told her medical staff are slow to act and isolate inmates when they fall ill, and some employees refuse to wear a mask. 

“We don’t want anything bad to happen to them. Let them do their time. You know they’re doing that, or they’re serving out their sentence, but they don’t need to be treated like that. We just want them to be safe just like you were I want everybody out here to be safe, and to be well. We want the same time,” said Frias.

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of all those who live and work in our state prisons,” CDCR Press Secretary Dana Simas said. “Avenal State Prison is currently testing as many inmates and staff as possible with assistance of the Kings County Public Health team and resources from the CDCR and California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) COVID-19 response teams. We are following isolation and quarantine guidance from public health experts to help curtail the potential spread of the virus. Health care staff conduct screenings multiple times daily to quickly identify anyone with new symptoms”

There’s a rally planned for Saturday June 6 at noon outside the prison. Friends and family of inmates plan to do a car caravan by the prison to show their support and call for more safety measures. 

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