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spike in Mississippi TRANSCRIPT: 7/8/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Theresa Cullen, Katie Rice

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 appreciated.

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 relentlessly.

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.


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- old widow.

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 ventilator.

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 hoax.

Anybody that thinks this is a hoax, they should come and spend the day with me here.

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.


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 country.

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 the state.

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 available.

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 in Jackson.

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.


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.


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 now.

Quote: Governor Tate Reeves says more restrictions are coming, possibly a masked mandate.

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 tonight.

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 Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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.


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.


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 region.

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 right now.


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 us.

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 days.

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 him.

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 any.

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. Giddy-up.

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 coronavirus infections.

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 prison.

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 correctional facilities.

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- blown crisis.

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 prisons.

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.


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.


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 that.

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.



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.


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 Supervisors.

Ms. Rice, thank you very much for making time for us tonight. I appreciate you being 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 place.

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 sure.

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 COVID.

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 why.

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.


Good evening, Lawrence.