San Quentin prison was virus free. A decision fueled an outbreak.


For days, the men used the same showers and ate in the same dining room as other inmates in San Quintín.

According to prison data, the virus only took days to traverse the prison, where hundreds of inmates sleep in bunks within inches of each other in a crowded bedroom that was once a gym. Elsewhere in the prison, the men are paired inside 4-by-9-foot cells.

Over the past week, the prison conducted massive tests. So far, more than half of the inmates examined have seen positive results, state data shows.

The virus has spread so rapidly and so little vacant space remains in the expanding prison that some infected inmates have been placed in small isolation cells where, in normal times, death row inmates are sent to punishment.

Marion Wickerd received a call last week from her husband Tommy Wickerd, 53, an inmate in San Quentin.

“He said, ‘People fall from right to left in front of me, but I’m fine,” said Wickerd.

However, a few hours later, he called again. He had tested positive. She said she had not spoken to him in several days.

“All I know is that my husband is not dead because nobody called me to tell me that,” she said. “Worried? You bet. Scared? You can bet.

The reports were contributed by Brendon Derr, Danya Issawi, Ann Hinga Klein, Savannah Redl and Maura Turcotte.

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