Inmate advocates, lawmakers and public health officials gathered in the shadow of San Quentin Thursday to demand the governor speed up plans to reduce the number of inmates at the state prison.
The COVID-19 outbreak inside is now so bad, one UCSF doctor described it as the "Chernobyl of COVID." More than 200 staff and more than 1,300 prisoners have active cases, and so far seven inmates have died.
"I'm devastated," said Marion Wickerd, wife of an infected inmate. "I've cried. I don't sleep."
Wickerd describes what it's been like knowing her husband, San Quentin inmate Tommy Wickerd, is COVID-19 positive.
"I literally for eight days did not know if Timmy was dead or alive," Wickerd said.
Wickerd is among the more than 1,300 San Quentin inmates who have the COVID-19 virus, 200 staff members have also tested positive.
Advocates gathered to demand the governor take action and reduce the prison population immediately.
"Now is the time to act," Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said. "Now is the time to release people."
Advocates describe dismal conditions inside the prison. COVID-19 positive inmate Michael Adams told NBC Bay Area he's being held with other sick inmates in cramped condition without electricity or proper meals.
"The conditions they have us in are deplorable," Adams said. "They have two people to a cell. There's no electricity, although they're trying to rectify that, we're not getting any hot meals."
But the state said it has taken drastic action to fight the outbreak, including forming medical strike teams and adding tents and beds on prison grounds to treat and isolate infected patients. Gov. Gavin Newsom again said a plan is in the works to release more prisoners to reduce overcrowding.
Shawanda Scott, whose son is one of the inmates infected, said that cannot happen fast enough. She made an impassioned please to the governor.
"My son's life is important," Scott said. "Just free my baby, bring him home I can take care of him."
At least seven San Quentin inmates have died of COVID-19. Advocates fear if changes are not made quickly, that number will skyrocket.