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An inmate tested positive for COVID-19. Prison staff housed him with uninfected inmates, he says

Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Midway through explaining how an inmate who'd tested positive for COVID-19 had been placed in his unit at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Gary Croom paused.

"Here," he told a reporter. "I'm going to give him the phone."

Saddled with guilt, worried he might touch off a resurgence of the disease that swept through the prison on the eastern edge of Riverside County a month ago, Alejandro Cantu took the phone.

Last week, Cantu explained, he broke his leg playing basketball on the yard and was taken to John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio.

Cantu, 34, had first tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, about a month earlier. Before undergoing surgery, he was tested again. The results came back five days ago, he said: still positive.

After the surgery, Cantu was brought back to Chuckawalla on Monday, he said. Despite his diagnosis, the prison staff placed him in a pod -- a small, enclosed space where inmates bunk a few feet apart -- that houses 11 other men, none of them infected, Cantu said.

 

"They brought him in," Croom, his bunk mate, recalled, "and he said, 'You guys don't have COVID?'"

Cantu said he told a sergeant he'd recently tested positive for COVID-19, but the sergeant brushed it off, saying that because he'd first tested positive for the disease a month ago, he could no longer transmit the disease. The sergeant, Cantu said, essentially told him "it wasn't a big deal."

Whether or not he is contagious, Cantu questioned why he wasn't placed in quarantine or at least in a building that houses infected inmates.

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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