spike in Mississippi TRANSCRIPT: 7/8/20, The Rachel Maddow Show
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN for this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That was a great conversation with Trevor
Potter. I`m so glad that you did that interview. That was such a good
discussion of that complex idea.
HAYES: Thank you. He is great. He`s really great, and it`s so important
that we have voices like that as we head into this next stretch honestly.
MADDOW: Seriously, yeah. Just people who are working from a small “D”
democratic, technocratic approach to these things, like, God, remember
that? Anyway, that was fantastic, man. Thank you very much. Much
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with
us here tonight.
Today, an “Associated Press” reporter Nomaan Merchant was able to shoot
some remarkable footage inside United Memorial Medical Center. United
Memorial Medical Center is a relatively small hospital on the north side of
Houston, Texas. The whole hospital has I believe 117 beds. Right now, 88 of
those 117 beds are devoted to COVID patients.
So, reporter Nomaan Merchant and the “A.P.”, tonight, they`re reporting
that this 117-bed hospital at United Memorial is considering just becoming
a 100 percent COVID facility because they mostly have COVID patients now
anyway, and their numbers in north Houston just keep rising and rising
So, I want to – I want to show you this footage from the “A.P.” tonight
because it`s a rare scene that most of us don`t usually get to see of how
this all ends, of what the inevitable consequence is of these skyrocketing
numbers, over 3 million cases now in the United States, regularly 50,000
new cases a day now, record hospitalizations in Arizona, Florida, Texas,
California, all over.
The inevitable consequence of all of that is what happens in hospital rooms
like this one you`re about to see in north Houston. And I frankly also
wanted to see this tonight specifically because the doctors at this
hospital working with COVID patients and trying to save these patients
lives, they specifically want the country to see this. The doctors in this
hospital invited the “Associated Press” and their camera crew in to see
this specifically so people will believe this is really happening because
there are too many people in our country who believe it isn`t.
Perhaps needless to say at this point after all that lead up, I will tell
you this footage is very raw. It`s not gory. It`s not bloody, but it is
upsetting. If you do not want to see something upsetting in a medical
sense, I will give you a second to hit pause or step away for a second but
then I`m going to show it.
OK, three, two, one. Let`s go ahead and show this footage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: As coronavirus numbers surge in Houston the battle to save lives
is increasingly uphill.
Doctors and nurses at United Memorial Medical Center try to save a 66-year-
Her oxygen levels falling rapidly, her vital signs declining.
Before she fell unconscious, she told staff she may have contracted the
deadly virus from the dozens of people who gathered for her husband`s
recent funeral and expressed her regrets for having such a large gathering.
Despite their best efforts to revive her, she dies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody.
DR. JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER, HOUSTON:
We have seen an exponential increase of cases we have of COVID. The
hospital has had to expand. We had 46 beds and went to 58, and now 88 beds.
And, you know, even though it sounds like a lot of beds, it`s not enough.
LATANYA ROBINSON, COVID-19 PATIENT: It`s horrifying because you can`t get
your breath. And all you can think in your head is am I going to end up on
a ventilator, do I have to be on a ventilator. That`s all I kept thinking.
Lord, it`s getting worse and worse to where I might wind up on a
CELESTE GLOVER, COVID-19 PATIENT: We wipe down our food deliveries, our
groceries. I didn`t even go to the grocery store because I have underlying
health conditions. My son would go to the grocery store. Did everything in
my power and here I am.
VARON: And we are trying to tell people, you know, keep your safe distance,
use your mask, wash your hands. They don`t do it. They think this is a
Anybody that thinks this is a hoax, they should come and spend the day with
If you have any questions, you call me, I will take care of anything you
need, OK? And one again – no, she is not – I am very sorry. The nurses
will call you regarding the funeral arrangements, OK? And I am very sorry
for your loss.
That`s one thing you don`t want to do when you`re a doctor, but you got to
do it. I mean, somebody has to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The medical director of that hospital you just saw there, his name
is Dr. Joseph Varon. “The Associated Press” notes today that as of – as of
them shooting this footage today, Dr. Varon has worked more than 100 days
straight without rest in North Houston.
Here`s the “Texas Tribune`s” picture worth a thousand words about what has
happened in Texas hospitals to get them to this point. The vertical dotted
line you see there on sort of the left side of the screen that shows the
date when Texas` Republican Governor Greg Abbott started sort of
proverbially pounding his chest and bragging about how Texas was going to
open up the whole state earlier than almost anywhere else in the whole
The rising line to the right of that dotted line show what has happened in
Texas hospital since. Now, Texas is scrambling to claw some of this back.
As of Memorial Day, Texas had just over 1,500 people hospitalized. Today,
they are edging toward 10,000. The Texas Republican Party had been planning
until today to hold a giant indoor in-person 6,000-person state convention
in Houston next week.
The Houston regional alone has over 55,000 cases of coronavirus. It`s also
home to the world`s largest medical system, the Texas Medical Center. That
medical center is now into its third week operating at full or beyond
capacity in terms of its ICU beds.
But Texas Republican officials want to hold their convention there in-
person, indoors. Texas Republican Party officials initially rebuffed health
experts concerns about holding this in-person 6,000-person convention next
week in Houston. Yesterday, they ignored the Houston mayor`s reminder that
local health officials might just order the thing shutdown if in fact the
Republican Party of Texas convened their convention in the way that
contravene public health guidelines.
Today Houston`s mayor says he advised the city`s legal department to review
the Republican Party`s contract with the city`s convention center. After
that legal review of the convention center in fact contacted the state
Republican Party of Texas and told them their in-person convention next
week at the Houston convention center, that is now canceled.
Perhaps instead of cramming 6,000 people into an indoors event in Houston
next week, perhaps the state party could take a virtual tour with Dr. Varon
on his rounds at United Memorial in North Houston.
In Florida, hospital capacity is starting to teeter as well. The state says
it`s going to surge a hundred extra nurses and dozens more beds into
Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. There are now dozens of hospitals
across Florida that are reporting zero ICU beds available. After weeks of
refusing to release this kind of data statewide, Florida is now just
starting to release information on utilization rates at hospitals across
Of the 306 Florida hospitals listed in the state database, 41 report that
they have zero percent of their ICU beds available, 41 hospitals in Florida
say they have zero percent availability in their ICUs, ICUs totally full,
41 out of 306. Perhaps even more worrying, there are 18 Florida hospitals
where it`s not just the ICU that`s full, it`s the whole hospital. Eighteen
Florida hospitals today reporting zero percent of their regular hospital
beds are available. They are just absolutely full.
If you nudge one state up from the Florida Panhandle, you find that in the
great state of Alabama, here`s the headline in the “Montgomery Advertiser”
tonight. Available Alabama ICU beds at all-time low as COVID-19
hospitalizations spike. Alabama once again warning that they are at a
statewide peak in terms of ICU utilization and the limits on the beds
In neighboring Mississippi, my God, do they have a situation on their hands
right now. I don`t know if this has received a lot of national attention
yet, but this is a remarkable situation. The Mississippi state legislator
in its infinite wisdom decided they would hold a several weeks long
legislative session in person over the past few weeks at the state capitol
And during that weeks long legislative session lawmakers largely refused
public health recommendations to wear masks while they were inside the
capitol doing their legislative work, sitting in hearings, casting votes
and all the rest of it.
Well, now, look at the headlines on the “Clarion Ledger” newspaper in
Mississippi as of right now. First one here, outbreak at Mississippi
capitol. Number of infected lawmakers grows to 26 – 26 state legislators
have just tested positive.
Quote: Many politicians flouted recommendations to wear a mask inside the
capitol in recent weeks. Now about one in six Mississippi state lawmakers
have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Quote: The number of coronavirus cases linked to the outbreak at the
capitol has grown to 36. That includes 26 legislators according to the
state`s top health official. It apparently also does not include tests of
all lawmakers, some whom returned to their district before they got tested
at the capitol. So the number may yet rise.
The legislators known to be infected already include the leader of the
house in Mississippi, also the leader of the Senate in Mississippi who`s
the lieutenant governor. He oversees the Senate. Also the head of the
public health committee in the Mississippi legislature. He`s infected now,
too. These are all Republican legislators.
Now, tonight, the Mississippi governor, also a Republican, his name is Tate
Reeves, he has had to deliver just a remarkable general warning to the
general population of the state of Mississippi. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. TATE REEVES (R), MISSISSIPPI: It is my opinion that if you have been
in contact with anyone in the legislator or if you have been in contact
with any staff person that works at the legislator you need to get tested.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you have had the misfortune of having any contact with the
Mississippi state legislator you need to get yourself a coronavirus test.
And when that is going on with the statehouse and the state Senate and the
lieutenant governor and the state health director in Mississippi is now
basically saying I don`t care what legislative business you guys still have
to do, you have to get out of here. You have created a gigantic outbreak in
the state capitol, literally in the state capitol building. When that`s
going on in your state capitol it is perhaps not surprising this is now as
of tonight the other main headline at the “Clarion Ledger” newspaper right
Quote: Governor Tate Reeves says more restrictions are coming, possibly a
Mississippi in part because their entire political class has just been
inflicted all at once in part because they neglected to follow public
health guidance about wearing masks, Mississippi as a state may be about to
get a mask ordinance. That is the down spiraling situation in Mississippi
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, tonight, the Tulsa health director is making national
news for announcing another new dramatic surge of new COVID cases in Tulsa.
The city and county health director says president Trump`s campaign rally
in Tulsa, which you`ll remember was the first large indoor congregant event
of any kind in the country for months when it happened last month. The
Tulsa city and county health director now says that event held by President
Trump appears to be the likely source of the new surge of the virus in
So, yeah, it is bad – it`s bad all over. It`s at least bad in lots and
lots of places. And it is our particular curse as a country that the head
of our federal government appears to be personally responsible for making
some of it bad himself for the purposes of his campaign. I mean, it`s just
– we spend all this energy like thinking oh, this is, you know, we have
two competing parties who both have governing philosophies and they compete
who has the best ideas to address the nation`s challenges.
No, we have a president who`s causing outbreaks and telling you not to
follow CDC guidelines. It`s not a competition among two governing parties.
It`s a competition between governing and that. Governing and whatever this
is under this president.
There`s an election in November. You know, we`ll see how we get ourselves
out of that. But if there`s one place that Americans should be focusing our
attention now, if there`s one place we had to pick in the country to focus
our attention, our well-wishes, maybe even our prayers, right now, it is
probably this state which is in trouble. The state represented by this
yellow slash orange line here on this graph.
The blue line on the graph – excuse me, the state represented by the blue
line on this graph. The yellow slash orange line on this graph, the one on
the left there with the early peak, that shows the daily case count in New
York when New York went through just the apocalypse in term of COVID,
right, with freezer trucks full of bodies parked outside, overwhelmed
hospitals. The yellow, orange line there, that`s New York at its peak.
The blue line on the right side of the screen which you can see is now
peaking higher than New York ever hit on its worst days in terms of its
number of new cases, that blue line represents the state of Arizona which
has now exceeded New York at its worst. The mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, Kate
Gallego, did an interview with our colleague Chris Jansing today on MSNBC
that just put right up front the desperation in Arizona`s largest city.
Phoenix is the largest city in Arizona. It`s the state capitol of Arizona.
It`s also the fifth largest city in the United States, which makes it
remarkable that this is what they`re going through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR KATE GALLEGO (D), PHOENIX, ARIZONA: The federal government has
provided a testing surge in other states such as Texas and Florida. I
request that they do the same in Phoenix. When you see that positive rate
that Steven just mentioned above 25 percent, we are only testing the
sickest of the sick. We need more help with testing right now. We also need
more medical personnel. We are stretched right now and our hospital CEOs
tell me it`s going to get worse over the next two weeks.
This weekend I went to a testing site where people had waited over 8 hours.
I saw a man who was sweating and struggling to breathe try to refill his
gas tank because he`d run out of fuel on our city street. If anyone looks
at that and doesn`t want to do better for him, then I just don`t understand
it. We need that testing surge in particularly our Latino areas of Phoenix.
We are in a crisis right now. The resources and testing have not reached
every part of our state. And for months now, we`ve been asking for
additional testing. Time has come to deliver.
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: For months. Literally you`ve been asking for
months for this in anticipation of the situation you`re in?
GALLEGO: Phoenix is the largest city in the country to have not received
one of the large testing sites from the federal government. Even in April,
the Houston mayor was announcing everyone who wanted a test could get one
whereas we were struggling for our critical workers and sickest patients to
get testing. At the time I asked why they had such a better result than we
did and learned that the federal government had setup mass testing sites.
At the time they told me, we didn`t have the number of cases to justify it,
but unquestionably we do now with the highest positive rate in the country.
We went for our first 50,000 cases in Arizona it took five months, and then
it doubled within two weeks. The rate of growth is staggering and scary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, Kate Gallego, today with my
colleague Chris Jansing.
And what the mayor just said there about how fast it`s growing in Arizona
is true. Think about this for a second. It did take Arizona almost five
months. It took them four months and 26 days to get from their very first
case to their first 50,000 cases. But their next 50,000 cases to get from
50,000 to 100,000 cases, that took 15 days.
Arizona now does have the highest positivity rate in the nation. Over 25
percent of their tests are positive. That means they have the highest
proportion of tests in the country coming back positive, which means they
are not able to do enough tests.
According to the “Arizona Republic”, the state`s positivity rate week by
week since early may as gone from 5 percent to 6 percent to 9 percent to 12
percent, to 14 percent to 18 percent to 21 percent and now stands at over
25 percent. Week by week by week, it has gotten worse and worse.
That is a sign of an epidemic out of control and testing not able to keep
pace. And testing is the first thing you need to do to try to keep pace.
And it`s run – it has run rampant through every aspect of the health care
infrastructure that Arizona has. Arizona hospitals set new records for the
number of people hospitalized and the number of people turning up at the ER
almost every day now.
They had 1,000 patients hospitalized in June. There are now over 2,000
patients every day, and a new record every day. Today, the Arizona hospital
and health care association requested waivers from the state so they could
start doing things they could never do before, things like transporting
patients in private vehicles and putting adult and pediatric patients in
the same hospital rooms if they need to because they don`t have enough
beds, they don`t enough room.
But take a look at Arizona`s second largest city, look at Tucson. Tucson is
in Pima County, Arizona. “The Arizona Daily Star” reporting that Pima
County residents are going to their local hospitals with symptoms of COVID-
19, but now there`s not only the prospect that their local hospital won`t
have room for them and so they`ll be transferred somewhere else in Arizona,
now there is the prospect for Tucson COVID patients that they`ll actually
have to be transferred out-of-state just to find a bed, just to find
somewhere they can be taken care of.
Quote, Pima County residents with COVID-19 are being treated now in San
Diego, California, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Las Vegas, Nevada, when
shortages in staffing, equipment or bed space make it impossible for
hospitals close to home to take them. As of the start of this week for the
whole Tucson region, there were 11 total ICU beds available for the whole
Tucson is like a half million people, right? For the whole region 11 ICU
beds? And that 11 beds includes beds of what is supposed to be the overflow
facility of last resort. It includes beds they`ve tapped at the local V.A.
hospital. That`s how they get up to the grand number of 11 whole beds
available for the region.
The Pima County health director explaining to the daily star the
desperation of these measures is of necessity. She told them, quote, the
emergency room situation went from stable last week to without equivocation
to critical this week, as the number of new coronavirus cases in the county
has risen ten-fold in the last two months.
They`ve got the highest positivity rates in the country. They`ve got
hospitals overtopped now and ongoing. They`re having to transfer patients
not just in state but out-of-state to find them beds. Their caseload has
gone up tenfold in the last two months in a state that cannot get testing.
Imagine being the health director in charge of that county, imagine being
the health director in charge of this rapidly expanding conflagration.
Joining us now is that health director, Dr. Theresa Cullen. She is the
public health director for Pima County, Arizona, home of Tucson`s second
largest county in Arizona.
Dr. Cullen, thank you for taking time. I know you are in incredible demand
DR. THERESA CULLEN, PIMA COUNTY, AZ PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTOR: Thank you for
inviting us to be on.
MADDOW: So you know the situation much better than me or anybody else. Let
me just ask you first if I got anything wrong or if news has outpaced
anything I explained or if you think I`m looking at anything the wrong way
around in terms of understanding what`s happening in Pima County.
CULLEN: Well, Pima County is over a million people, which makes the number
of ICU beds even a little more stark. The access to them is more
significantly limited because we have such a large population.
We`re a rural, semirural and urban population. We`re a very large county.
We have two American Indian reservations. We`re on the border with Mexico.
We`re a very eclectic group in terms of the county, but everything else
you`ve said is accurate.
MADDOW: In terms of the resources in your county and what that means for an
individual person who may or may not have tested positive, who feels like
they need to go to the hospital because they have symptoms and they`re
worried – if somebody turns up at an emergency room right now at one of
your hospitals in Pima County, what can they expect in terms of being cared
for and where they will be cared for, and the prospect that they might have
to be transferred alone somewhere far from home?
CULLEN: Yeah. So I think what`s important to note is that as a community,
Tucson is a very cooperative community. Our hospitals are working well
together. We have multiple meetings every week with the hospitals so we can
assess what`s going on for them not only in our ICU beds but for hospital
beds and for access through the emergency room.
If someone presents today to the emergency room – and I would remind
everyone that the emergency room, the ICU situation can change in a very
quick period of time. So when we report numbers we`re reporting static
numbers. Obviously, the situation is dynamic.
But if people present to the hospital, obviously, they can get appropriate
care. I think the thing that is most concerning is that if patients need
intensive care will they be able to get it at the hospital that they self-
present to, or will they be required to be transferred?
Because Arizona is a rural community it`s not uncommon historically for
patients to have been transferred from rural settings to the more urban
settings. What we`re seeing now, however, is accelerated rates of transfer
as the hospitals work with the state through something the state put
together called the surge line to try to find the appropriate bed for a
patient that needs intensive care.
MADDOW: Given the positivity rates in Arizona, given what you are dealing
with in Pima County and in Tucson, given the strain on the hospitals that
you`ve been so forthright about, talking to national audience right now,
can you – is there something that you need that you don`t have? Is there
something that this country should be providing you in terms of help? You
are really at the tip of the spear right now in terms of where this
American epidemic is. Do you need something you haven`t gotten?
CULLEN: Right. Well, we work very closely with the state and with the
hospitals. We actually activated two national disaster medical teams.
They`re in the city right now. We`ve activated ventilators coming to us
from the national stockpile. We`ve activated a volunteer corps to come help
Obviously, I think just like everyone else including the earlier segment on
that other hospital people need trained staff. So it`s one thing to have
access to a bed. The other thing is to have access to the staff that can
appropriately and adequately take care of you. I think the concern that we
have is that we`re seeing once again this logarithmic increase, what you
talked about, we have a tenfold increase, a logarithmic increase in five
We`re not sure where that`s going to stop. We`ve done some interventions
like masks we think will perhaps mitigate some of that, but right now we
are still on the cusp of increasing our cases. So what do we need? Well, I
think we need your prayers which you mentioned earlier.
But I also think we need is just an awareness that the toolbox is pretty
limited. And our toolbox requires our community to really come together. A
lot of what we need to do is depending upon our community wearing masks,
physically distancing, and at the same time ensuring that we have the
resources that our patients need.
MADDOW: Dr. Theresa Cullen, a public health director in very hard hit Pima
County, Arizona, where I know you and your colleagues are doing your best
and the eyes of the country are upon you right now because of how hard
you`ve got it. Good luck, and keep us apprised if there`s something you
want the country to know about how you`re doing. Please come back.
CULLEN: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right, much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It`s Wednesday after the Fourth of July weekend. These are usually
the dog days of news when nothing is happening. But interesting everything
else we`ve already put on the front page tonight, there`s a whole bunch of
big stuff you should sort of have a heads up for. It`s likely to develop
between tonight and the end of this week. It`s between tonight and Friday.
For starters, it looks like the White House is maybe trying to force the
CDC to water down or at least change their guidelines for how to safely
reopen the nation`s schools this fall. Today, President Trump said he
disagrees with the CDC guidelines because he said they were too tough.
Shortly after that criticism from the president on Twitter the Vice
President just blithely announced the CDC will issue new guidance about
schools next week. Right now, it`s honestly unclear as to whether new
recommendations from CDC are specifically going to be tailored to meet the
president`s preference for things that are less tough.
But the White House is certainly doing everything it can to make this
crucial issue of school reopening as confusing and opaque and untrustworthy
as possible, just what we need.
So, another thing to watch, though. You may have heard today that
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, major witness in the impeachment
inquiry, has retired from the Army today after more than 20 years of
service. His lawyer put out a statement saying Colonel Vindman determined
his future in the military would quote, forever be limited because of a
campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation over his impeachment
testimony, a campaign led by the president. You`ll remember that Colonel
Vindman and his twin brother who had nothing to do with the impeachment
were both ousted from the National Security Council and their White House
jobs after the impeachment vote.
Well, in recent weeks, officials have raised alarms the White House was
trying to block the promotion that the Army had recommended for Colonel
Vindman, basically continuing the president`s retaliation effort against
Today, “The New York Times” reports the White House repeatedly pressed the
Pentagon to try to find some kind of misconduct by Colonel Vindman that
could be used to justify blocking his promotion. The Pentagon couldn`t find
Last week, we spoke with Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth after she said
she would block all military promotions right now, over a thousand of them,
until the defense secretary pledged not to bow to the president`s pressure
on retaliating against Colonel Vindman and his promotion.
But Vindman`s retirement apparently doesn`t end the standoff. Senator
Duckworth says she`s not lifting her hold on all those other military
promotions. She says her hold remains in place, quote, until the secretary
of defense provides a transparent accounting of this disgraceful situation.
So that`s a live ongoing situation tonight.
And based on a pronouncement from the United States Supreme Court today, it
looks like tomorrow morning we`re going to get the Supreme Court ruling on
whether state prosecutors in New York and congressional investigators can
access the president`s financial records and his taxes. Something, of
course, which there`s a brand new spotlight because of this new book by the
president`s niece which we highlighted on the show last night. It was the
president`s niece we now know who provided Trump family financial documents
to “The New York Times” for their Pulitzer winning expose of president
Trump and his family`s fraudulent tax schemes.
The Supreme Court is going to rule tomorrow morning on whether the
president`s tax and financial information can be released to investigators.
This is not your typical July but all those stories coming down in the
middle of what is supposed to be a slow week. Buckle up.
MADDOW: We`ve only got 50 states in our big, messy excellent country. Of
those 50, right now, 36 states have a rising number of coronavirus cases.
And of those 36 states with rising cases, we`ve been talking tonight about
how numbers are just through the roof in Arizona and Florida and Texas.
We`re seeing hospitals in each of those states overtopping their capacity.
But for all the attention on those three states which is deserved, things
are also bad in the great state of California which is also hitting record
hospitalization and record case numbers including today. Except in
California, the situation is a little bit more complicated. For one thing
California is gigantic. And northern California has fared better than
southern California when it comes to beating back the initial wave of
The two halves of the state are in different enough positions right now
that overtopped hospitals in southern California are diverting patients up
to the northern part of the state instead. On some nights that has meant
mobilizing half a dozen helicopters or three or four fixed wing planes
simply to get patients out of overrun southern California hospitals into
facilities in the northern part of the state where they can actually
receive care. That`s a daily basis.
But as northern California deals with that influx from the southern part of
the state, they`re also facing another new and very specific problem of
their own. Thanks to one massive and unique coronavirus outbreak at San
Quentin state prison just north of San Francisco. More than 1,500
prisoners, more than a third of the prisoners of that facility have already
been infected. Seven of them have died, just four of those deaths in the
last few days.
And at this point, it`s not an isolated prison problem. What`s happening at
San Quentin is now affecting the whole Bay Area, and the whole coronavirus
epidemic in the northern part of California. At one of the local hospitals
located about 4 miles from San Quentin, half of their intensive care unit
is now filled with coronavirus patients who were transferred from the
In fact, in Marin County where San Quentin is located more than a third of
hospital coronavirus patients are local prisoners. In nearby Alameda County
where I grew up, 20 of the 45 coronavirus patients that are being treated
in Alameda County are from San Quentin, 20 of the 45. Hospitals in
neighboring San Mateo county have accepted 12 prisoners from San Quentin
but say they are prepared to accept as many as 50 and they may have to make
good on that.
Major San Francisco hospitals, some same ones already have to deal with the
influx of patients flown in from southern California on a daily basis,
they`re also being asked to open their doors specifically to treat
prisoners from San Quentin. This is affecting the whole community.
And, you know, it`s not like the situation in San Quentin is – I mean,
it`s uniquely affecting the epidemic in California, but we are seeing still
huge epidemics in correctional facilities of all kinds. Of the top ten
largest outbreaks in the country right now, nine of them are at
We know that the virus spreads like wildfire in congregate living
facilities like this. What makes the problem in California worse is that
their huge epidemic, their huge outbreak, one of the biggest – top ten
biggest outbreaks in the country didn`t just organically evolve inside that
prison. It was caused by a mistake that has since developed into a full-
San Quentin actually had done a good job at keeping coronavirus at bay all
the way through May of this year. That good work essentially disappeared
overnight when the state corrections department decided to transfer more
than 120 prisoners to San Quentin from another prison in the state that was
dealing with a huge outbreak. Once the virus was introduced to San Quentin
by those transferred prisoners, it exploded inside San Quentin. And that
fact that it was a decision by the state that caused this epidemic has
stirred up a lot of anger, anger that has been directed at state officials,
including California`s governor, Gavin Newsom.
This weekend, dozens of demonstrators gathered outsides his house demanding
he do something to help get a handle on the epidemic in the state`s
Inside San Quentin, prisoners there have started hunger strikes and
protested what they say are dismal living conditions that have contributed
to the rampant spread of the virus once it got in there. And increasingly,
people who have loved ones inside San Quentin are starting to speak out and
talk to the press, let people know what`s going on.
Recently, we had the chance to speak with the fiancee of one of the
prisoners at that facility. Here`s what she had to say to us which she said
we could share with you.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
FIANCE OF SAN QUENTIN PRISONER: It`s terrifying, you know. It`s just
they`re locked in a box, in a cinder box. It`s just not a good place in the
best of situations, even if they did get them hand sanitizer and stuff but
they didn`t. I mean, they gave it to them at the beginning and that was it.
So, of course, as soon as it comes in it`s spread like wildfire.
And it`s, you know, terrible that these people are dying alone, too.
They`re doing their sentence, they`re doing their time. They`re paying
their debt to society. They shouldn`t be dying because the state isn`t
taking care of them.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Despite how bad things are with this very specific problem in
northern California, the public outcry over it is starting to move the
needle. This week, Governor Newsom acknowledged that moving those prisoners
from that other prison with that highly infected population, moving those
prisoners into San Quentin was a mistake. The governor is acknowledging
After our reporting on this situation last night, the California Department
of Corrections reached out to us today to say that ten field tents are now
being erected at San Quentin to house prisoners who are positive, prisoners
who are sick. They say that`s so positive prisoners will no longer have to
share the same cellblocks with prisoners who have tested negative for the
virus. That seems like progress.
Also I can`t believe that`s only happening now. Before all the action now,
this is a problem that a lot of people saw coming including the head of the
county board of supervisors in Marin County, Katie Rice.
Katie Rice sent a letter to Governor Newsom weeks ago, ringing the alarm
bell about this nascent situation at San Quentin and asking for very
specific help. Now they`re finally starting to get that help. Is it enough,
and what should happen here next?
Katie Rice joins us next. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: In late May, we had prisoners
transferred from one prison, Chino, into San Quentin. They should not have
been transferred. I could go through robust details with you in nuance and
specificity because it requires nuance and a very specific frame of mind
and engagement to address this legitimate concern crisis that we have at
this site. And, so, know that it is our top focus and priority.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: California`s Governor Gavin Newsom this week admitting that the
decision to transfer prisoners into San Quentin from another California
prison that was the site of a huge coronavirus outbreak, the governor
admitting that was a mistake. It`s a mistake that has led to over 1,500
infections now in San Quentin and at least seven deaths.
Now, in the wake of that decision, the top medical officer for California`s
corrections system is out of a job.
San Quentin is now battling one of the largest COVID outbreaks in the
country, a top 10 outbreak in the country right now.
There are decisions being made during this pandemic that will reveal
themselves only in distant hindsight to have been terrible mistakes. We
know that. But then there are mistakes that it`s clear were mistakes right
from the get-go. And in this case, it`s Marin County, the community where
San Quentin Prison is located that`s left struggling with the consequences
and trying to figure out how to do right by that facility where so many men
now are sick and dying.
Joining us now is Katie Rice, president of the Marin County Board of
Ms. Rice, thank you very much for making time for us tonight. I appreciate
you being here.
KATIE RICE, MARIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA BOARD OF SUPERVISOR, PRESIDENT: Happy
to be here.
MADDOW: So a couple of weeks ago, you sent a letter the governor asking for
help with this crisis. You wanted onsite capacity to manage the care of
prisoners that were sick. You wanted an incident commander with outbreak
management expertise. It seems like you were on this in terms of how
serious it was and what needed to happen.
Can you talk to us about the response that you got and whether you feel
like it is finally coming together in terms of what needs to be done here?
RICE: Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, I think you nail it in your summary
of what happened to date and how we got to this point. But frankly the
situation today is a lot different than it was even a week ago. And credit
to the governor and to his people and then our assemblymen Mark Levine and
Senator Mark McGwire working with our own folks here at the county level
and our public health officer to really come together in pretty short order
once we got the right attention from the right folks to put the pieces in
The things that we ask for in my letter of June 24th, which were basically,
as you said, wanted to bring in incident command with expertise and expert
control and being able to set up this on site care facility and the
capacity to move folks who test positive in to some sort of isolation. So a
lot of those 1,500 cases that tested positive over the last four weeks in
San Quentin, many of them didn`t need a lot of medical care, some did and
some needed hospitalizations as well.
But as of today, and I just talked to our public health officer who was in
San Quentin earlier this afternoon, he`s feeling a lot better about this
situation. They`re going to have a 200-bed on site medical care facility
set up for heads in the beds by Friday and our hospital situation is
stabilized because any of the inmates who are needing hospitalization are
getting distributed more broadly around the area, so that feels better.
So things are a lot better today than they were a week ago, that`s for
MADDOW: When you say they`re distributed more broadly, do you mean
initially there was a crunch in terms of San Quentin prisoners being
transferred to a few facilities that couldn`t handle them in that number
and now there is a better system in place so that those prisoners could be
sent to more facilities, so that nobody is overburdened?
RICE: Yeah. It is my understanding that they had – the state had a
contract with one of our primary hospital, Marin Health, which is only four
miles away from San Quentin. That`s who the prison contracted with for
basic hospitalization, health care in normal times. And there were some, I
think some contractual steps and/or regulatory steps that had to be taken
to allow for patients to be distributed more broadly, and that happened.
But as you`re probably familiar, we`re a fairly small county. Our hospitals
aren`t that large, and we could see the onslaught coming if some better
preventative measures weren`t put in place and if the hospitals weren`t
able to, sort of, share the burden of those patients coming out of San
Quentin. But then also, if you got some better care on site to take care of
folks before they crash and need hospitalization, maybe you could avoid
also sending as many people to the hospital.
So that was the plan that our public health officer worked out with the
folks at San Quentin. And we have the governor`s support and things are
looking better. But still, it is a wildfire that maybe isn`t out of control
right now, but it is still a wildfire in that prison and a lot of people
are going to get sick.
MADDOW: Katie Rice, president of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, I
appreciate your attention to this as a public official, particularly before
it was in the headlines anywhere. And thanks for helping us understand how
it`s evolved overtime.
Good luck. Thank you.
RICE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: On Monday, it was Senator Chuck Grassley announcing he would not be
attending the Republican National Convention for the first time in 40
years. He said, quote, I am not going to go because of the virus situation.
Senator Grassley is 86 years old. The Republican convention this year is in
Florida where the rise in coronavirus cases is breaking the sound barrier
at the moment.
By that night, Monday night, we reported that 80-year-old Senator Lamar
Alexander had announced that he, too, would sit out the convention. All
week we have been calling out all the other senators in the octogenarian
club. There are a bunch of them, 80 years old or older. We`ve been calling
to see who else among them intended to squeeze their 80-plus-year-old
bodies into a closed convention hall in a state that is blinking red with
Tonight, 84-year-old Senator Pat Roberts gave us a non-answer. The
senator`s office told us, quote: We are not releasing any plans regarding
the RNC. Is that a yes you`re going?
Since we started asking, more senators who are under the age of 80 say for
sure they are not going. Mitt Romney says he`s not going. No reason giving.
Lisa Murkowski says she likes to spend August back home in Alaska, and
Susan Collins says she never goes when she`s up for re-election. I wonder
Whether any of these senators who say they are not going to the Republican
convention factored into the coronavirus or the need to get a little
distance from the president or just a dislike of Jacksonville, we don`t
know. But the Jacksonville convention is turning out to be in advance one
of the weirder ones ever held as we get closer and closer to it by day.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the