California prisons have reported a staggering rise in COVID-19 cases among staff this month, as the highly contagious Omicron variant has sent infection cases surging across the nation, the Guardian reports. Staff infections increased over two hundred percent in January with more than 3,800 active cases in dozens of state facilities. The surge comes amid debate over a federal judge’s order that all prison staff must be vaccinated, a mandate facing legal challenges from the governor and the corrections officer union. Some 69 percent of prison workers are fully vaccinated, although the percentage varies drastically from prison to prison. At three facilities, fewer than fifty percent of staff are fully vaccinated. Eighty percent of inmates in state prisons are fully vaccinated. As cases have risen among the work force, state prisons have reported 2,358 active infections among inmates people over the last two weeks.
The state is suspending visits at every facility for 15 days to reduce the spread of infections. Last weekend, the state reported more than 300,000 new cases. Omicron appears to cause less severe illness, particularly among the vaccinated, but it has led to a steep rise in infections that is straining California’s health system. Since the start of the pandemic, 268 people incarcerated in California prisons have died of COVID-19 and more than 54,000 have been infected. Forty-nine prison staff have died of COVID.