At a cost of $5.4 million, state prison officials have conducted a voluntary screening of California inmates to find out who has been exposed to the soil-borne fungus that causes valley fever.
Experts say that people who have already been exposed to the fungus are generally immune to repeat infections.
Prison officials are planning to transfer a limited number of those who have been previously exposed to the fungus to two facilities where 83 percent of valley fever cases in the California prison system occurred in 2011: Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) and Avenal State Prison (ASP).
Inmates who declined to volunteer for screening “are considered eligible for transfer to the two prisons unless they are in high-risk groups,” reported The Associated Press.
According to a 2013 federal court order, those who are African American, Filipino, those with diabetes and those with a weakened immune system, are at a higher risk for developing complications from valley fever.
Individuals over the age of 65 have a medical restriction from being housed at ASP and PVSP.
Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal court-appointed receiver who controls prison medical care, said about 90,000 of the more than 134,000 state inmates would be tested, according to the AP report.
Experts from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that about 13 percent of the tested inmates will be found to be immune, or about 11,700 inmates, the AP reported. The capacity of PVSP and ASP is about 8,200 inmates.
San Quentin State Prison North Block Testing:
About a week prior to the testing, San Quentin’s closed-circuit television system aired an informational video that explained the screening process. However, the full message did not air because the video cut off before its completion.
The video format Sacramento sent didn’t work with the San Quentin equipment, TV Specialist Larry Schneider said in an interview. He said after reformatting the video to fit San Quentin equipment specifications, the last part of it was cut off.
Prison administrators also passed out a pamphlet to inmates that explained the test was voluntary. If someone declined the test and did not have a current restriction, they would continue to be eligible for transfer to Pleasant Valley or Avenal.
More than 75 percent of the 500 inmates in North Block identified by prison administrators for screening did not volunteer to take the test.
January 12 began in North Block with an announcement at about 6:30 a.m. that inmates with diabetes were to be let out of their cells so they could receive their medication.
Normally, after inmates receive their medication, they make their way to the chow hall for breakfast. However, on screening day the diabetics were order back to their cells.
About five or six inmates assisted North Block correctional officers in passing out bagged breakfasts and lunches to each cell. Inmates who receive special dietary meals, such as religious diets, had their food delivered to their cells also.
The standard breakfast consisted of cocoa-pop cold cereal, coffee-cake, two boiled eggs, milk, apple juice and instant coffee. The lunch consisted of peanut butter and jelly, four slices of bread, a twin pack of cookies, corn nuts and an instant fruit drink.
The tests for valley fever began on the first tier at about 11 a.m.
Everyone was ordered to get out of their cells, walk around to the back of North Block and line up according to assigned cell.
Next, people who were on the list for screening were called to a table where a staff member asked whether they wanted to take the test. He then checked off the answer and directed the inmate to another area with about six other staff members.
When the inmates reached the other area, they were asked again if they were going to take the test. When an inmate said “no” he was told, “You will have to sign this refusal slip.”
One inmate said, “I am not refusing to take your test or experiment or whatever this is. I am not volunteering to take this test. You can check off whatever you want.” The staff member then told the inmate he had to sign the paper. The inmate repeated he was not volunteering to sign anything. The staff member told the inmate, “Just go.”
Other inmates who did not volunteer for the test said they did not sign the refusal slip because staff members would not give them a copy of what they were signing, or they could not understand what the content of the refusal slip was.
Testing in North Block ended at about 1:15 p.m.
Inmates who volunteered for testing were taken to a location outside of North Block to receive an injection of the screening solution.
Those who did not volunteer for testing were ordered back to their cells.
Here are the numbers by race of inmates (from second tier to the highest fifth tier) who went to the injection location outside of North Block:
- White: 70
- Black: 9
- Hispanic: 14
- Other: 12
- Total: 105
- Average per tier: 26.25
- Estimated North Block Total: 131
One inmate who took the test said he asked the staff member who was administering the screening test to him, “What is in this?” The person told him what it was, but the inmate said he couldn’t understand the words. The inmate said he then asked the staff member if he could take one of the empty boxes. The staff member said, “No.” Therefore, the inmate said he wrote down what was on the box — Immitis spherule-dirived.
On Jan. 14, North Block was placed on lockdown so that readings could be taken from the inmates who participated in the test.
The breakfast schedule was essentially the same as Jan. 12.
After breakfast, each person was called to the first desk by name and cell so officials could take their reading.
Here is the number of inmates called to the desk:
- First tier: 30
- Second tier: 25
- Third tier: 13
- Fourth tier: 20
- Fifth tier: 24
- Total inmates called: 112.