San Quentin Prison Was Free of the Virus. One Decision Fueled an Outbreak.

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

It took only days, data from the prison system shows, for the virus to make its way through the prison, where hundreds of inmates sleep in bunk beds within a few inches of one another in a crowded dormitory that was once a gymnasium. In other parts of the prison, men are paired inside 4-by-9 foot cells.

Over the past week, the prison has conducted mass testing. So far, more than half the inmates tested have seen positive results, state data shows.

The virus has spread so rapidly and there is so little unoccupied space left at the sprawling prison that some infected inmates have been placed in small isolation cells where, in normal times, death row inmates are sent for punishment.

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

“He said, ‘People are dropping right and left in front of me, but I’m OK,” Ms. Wickerd said.

A few hours later, though, he called back. 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 no one has called to tell me that,” she said. “Worried? You bet. Scared? You bet.”

Reporting was contributed by Brendon Derr, Danya Issawi, Ann Hinga Klein, Savannah Redl and Maura Turcotte.

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