The Covid-19 outbreak at San Quentin has caused the death of 26 prisoners and one guard. Ron Lee Joffrion, 55, is a survivor of the outbreak.
He has been locked up at San Quentin for the last 14 years, working for the Prison Industry Authority’s (PIA) mattress factory and assigned to a cell in North Block. He contracted the virus during a period of quarantine at the prison.
“I’m lucky to be alive, and I continue to thank God I made it this far, but I also realize that I’m still in danger,” Joffrion said in an interview. Joffrion is one of the 3,000 prisoners currently housed here at San Quentin who are not able to social distance themselves, and who face unclean living conditions and poor healthcare delivery.
He contracted Covid-19 after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation imported 121 men from a Southern California prison with a serious virus outbreak. San Quentin had been virus-free and the men were quarantined with no infections; within a short time, thousands of men and numerous guards had it.
Joffrion’s first symptoms were the loss of taste and smell, followed by extreme headaches, and he could not lay on his back. Within hours he could hardly breathe, so it was time for him to go “Man Down”—the prison term for when you have to call for help.
When the officers got to his cell, along with a nurse, he had a temperature of 101. They took him out to Badger section, part of the prison reserved for people who were showing symptoms. He stayed there for the next five days as his condition kept getting worse.
With no improvement, an ambulance transported him to Seton Hospital in Daly City, where he was placed in a special Intensive Care Unit for people from San Quentin. There he saw a lot of guys he knew from the prison.
He was not allowed to notify his family that he was sick and near death. For weeks he drifted in and out of consciousness, praying that he would get better and see his family again—his wife and two daughters.
After 30 days on oxygen in the ICU, he was returned to San Quentin, but instead of going back to his housing unit, he was placed in some sort of medical unit recently constructed in the PIA complex. He stayed there for the next 18 days, then was told that he was no longer infected, though he still suffered from a variety of symptoms.
Dr. Coleen Kivlahan, head of primary care at the University of California San Francisco, sees up to 20 patients like Joffrion, whom she refers to as “long-haul patients.”
She estimates that there are tens of thousands of so-called “long-haul patients” who continue to experience fatigue, chest pains, cognitive issues, and that much remains unknown about the virus, according to a Wall Street Journal article.
Joffrion still complains about his loss of memory and shortness of breath, and can hardly stand on his own. He is weak and frail after losing 30 pounds and cannot stand for longer than a couple of minutes.
As harsh as the virus was on him, he is glad to have survived, thinking back to some of the guys he saw at Seton Hospital who did not come back.
He realizes that he is not out of the woods yet. The virus is still here, and he can see it around him, that proper measures are still not in place to protect people in North Block. There is no consensus on how long he will be immune from catching the virus again, but some data suggests he will be immune for three weeks, while other data says he will be fine up to three months.