First Inmate Death Due to COVID-19 Reported at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison

Taylor Martinez

BLYTHE (CNS) – An inmate has died of COVID-19, becoming the first incarcerated fatality at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison near Blythe, site of the state prison system’s largest coronavirus outbreak to date.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not immediately identify the inmate or release the date of death.

As of Friday morning, 991 inmates at the men’s prison were infected with the virus.

The flare-up represents the worst outbreak in the entire state prison system, second only to Avenal State Prison in central California, which reported 662 infections.

There are now 15 inmate deaths associated with COVID-19 statewide, 13 of which have happened at the California Institution for Men in San Bernardino County.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Riverside County now stand at 10,240, and the number of deaths at 377, according to data released Thursday by the Riverside University Health System.

Statewide, 3,161 state inmates were infected with the coronavirus as of Friday, including inmates who remain in custody and those who have since been released, according to state data.

Single-day case reporting records were broken three times countywide this week since the first locally acquired coronavirus case was reported on March 8. Thursday’s 329 new infections is the second-largest single-day case number behind only Tuesday, when 384 newly confirmed infections were reported.

Part of the uptick is due to the outbreak at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, which is included in the county’s tally, according to RUHS spokesman Jose Arballo.

In announcing confirmed cases countywide had passed the 10,000 mark Thursday, the region’s health officer urged residents not to become complacent about protecting themselves from the highly contagious virus.

“We forecasted sporadic outbreaks through the summer, and those forecasts so far are coming true,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s health officer.

“It’s time to think about what the fall will bring, and those initial estimates aren’t good,” he said. “If we’re not observing social distancing and facial coverings, two things that helped before and are helping now, we’re going to lose the progress we’ve made.”

The number of hospitalized patients stood at 232 as of Thursday, which includes 71 being treated in intensive care units.

The hospitalization tally includes residents from neighboring counties being treated in Riverside County, which received upwards of 100 patients from Imperial County beginning in the last two weeks of May.

More than 145,000 residents have been tested for the coronavirus in Riverside County, or more than 4% of the county’s population of nearly 2.5 million. Documented recoveries from COVID-19 total 5,714.

Riverside County has the second-highest number of cases and deaths statewide after Los Angeles.

Starting Friday, motels, gyms, bars and other businesses will be allowed to reopen, having been shuttered due to state-at-home orders. Guests can expect to see a cap on capacity, social-distancing protocols and other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

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