COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Updated 3/30/20

How is COVID-19 spread? 

According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spread mainly person-to-person among those in close contact with one another. The virus can be transmitted through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes within the immediate area. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. The spread of COVID-19 can be significantly reduced with proper infection control measures and good individual hygiene practices. 


What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Isolation separates people who have a contagious disease from people who do not.

Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

What are the protocols when a staff member tests positive?

For an updated breakdown by location of CDCR and CCHCS staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, please see our webpage here: https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/covid19/cdcr-cchcs-covid-19-status/

If at any point it is determined there is a potential exposure to the incarcerated population, the Agency will restrict movement at the institution while a contact investigation is underway and quarantine those deemed at-risk for an observation period.

The well-being of all who live in, work in, and visit state prison is of the utmost importance to the Department and many measures are in place to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19. Learn more at www.cdcr.ca.gov/covid19. The Agency works in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and local health departments to ensure all guidelines are followed.

What is a contact investigation?

When public health workers investigate whether a disease has spread, it is called a contact investigation. For COVID-19, this generally starts with an interview of the person who has a positive test. Questions are asked such as places they have been and a list of people who may have had close contact with them. CDC considers a close contact someone who was within about six feet of someone with COVID-19 for a long period or had direct contact with infectious secretions of a person with coronavirus — such as being coughed on.

What is CDCR/CCHCS protocol for testing incarcerated individuals?

Early diagnosis may improve clinical outcomes and so priority for COVID-19 related testing is being considered for symptomatic individuals who are older than 65 years old or have a chronic medical condition and/or are immunocompromised. While influenza remains prevalent, patients with a fever greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit and cough who are not at high risk for severe disease may undergo testing for influenza as a first-line test, with a COVID-19 testing if negative for influenza.

CDCR/CCHCS are utilizing our current external laboratory provider for COVID-19 testing and are following testing protocols based on guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Our current turnaround for test results is 48-72 hours.

How is CDCR/CCHCS managing the situation when there are individuals with positive results?

The Agency has protocols in place that follow recommendations for quarantines set forth by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any incarcerated individual who shows symptoms for COVID-19 will be tested for COVID-19 as appropriate. Please see the Interim Guidance for Health Care and Public Health Providers for detailed protocols.

Due to the unique factors of each institution and the population each institution houses, the department remains agile in our response to any potential case of COVID-19 based on the factors and risk related to that case, with the top priority being the safety and protection of staff, volunteers, and the incarcerated population.

Patients with confirmed COVID-19 will be continuously assessed and monitored by institution medical staff. When possible, the patient will be assigned dedicated health care staff to provide care and their movements to different parts of the institution will be limited to decrease the risk of staff spreading COVID-19 to other parts of the facility.

What are the protocols for quarantining inmates?

The criteria for imposing quarantine in a correctional facility will remain a dynamic process based on recommendations from the local health department, California Department of Public Health, CCHCS Public Health Branch, and the institution’s Chief Medical Executive.

Quarantining is implemented for patients who are contacts to a COVID-19 case and are not ill.

Patients in quarantine, and those transporting quarantined patients, are instructed to wear personal protective equipment. Quarantine does not include restricting the patient to their own cell for the duration without opportunity for exercise or yard time. Quarantined patients may have yard time as a group but are instructed not to mix with patients not in quarantine.

These units will be assessed continuously by health care staff in order to immediately identify any new patients with symptoms. If a symptomatic patient is identified, they will be evaluated by a health care provider as soon as possible. If one or more patients in quarantine develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the ill patients will be isolated from the asymptomatic quarantined patients.

For even further detailed information, please see the Interim Guidance for Health Care and Public Health Providers for detailed protocols.

Are CDCR and CCHCS identifying at-risk people?

The Agency has established additional precautions for those in units with a vulnerable population and our infirmaries such as additional disinfection efforts and even smaller groups for dining and out-of-cell time. CCHCS and CDCR have collaboratively established precautions based on recommendations by CDPH and CDC.

Are CDCR and CCHCS providing doctors’ visits and COVID-19 screening to the incarcerated population?

We have communicated to the incarcerated population that if they are experiencing symptoms they should immediately seek health care at their institution. Health care staff will continue to see and treat patients through the 7362 process and those with flu-like symptoms will be tested for COVID-19 as appropriate.

In 2019, the Agency eliminated all copays for inmate healthcare: https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/news/2019/02/21/california-department-of-corrections-and-rehabilitation-eliminates-inmate-copayments-for-health-care-services/.

If COVID-19 spreads through CDCR/CCHCS, what contingency plans are in place to ensure things keep running?

The Agency has continuity of operations plans ready to implement in order to maintain critical functions should the situation arise. As a precautionary measure, and to ensure CDCR and CCHCS are ready to immediately respond to any COVID-19 related incident, the Department Operations Center (DOC) has been activated in order to be fully prepared to respond to any departmental impacts resulting from COVID-19. The DOC is a central location where CDCR/CCHCS experts monitor information, prepare for known and unknown events, and exchange information centrally in order to make decisions and provide guidance quickly. We will continue to ensure inmate safety and security, and the continuation of access to medical, dental, and mental health services for the incarcerated population.