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Arizona prison system now letting employees wear cloth face masks

Seattle Police officer Rosell Ellis, right, wears an N95 mask as he listens to conversation during a routine call Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Seattle. As police and fire departments across the country face personnel shortages due to the spread of the new coronavirus, masks and other protective gear are being used to keep officers and firefighters still on the streets safe and healthy. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

PHOENIX – Days after a whistleblower accused Arizona prison leaders of prohibiting officers from wearing masks for protection against COVID-19, the corrections department changed its policy.

Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry announced Friday it will start recommending that employees wear nonmedical cloth face coverings to reduce the risk of spreading the highly contagious coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The ADCRR said in a press release it will continue with its existing policy of providing medical masks for health care workers and employees who have direct contact with inmates showing symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu.

The department said the policy change regarding cloth masks was in response to new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The announcement did not mention the whistleblower complaint filed by Lt. Mark Hasz, who works at Lewis Prison in Buckeye, on March 26 and made public March 31.

In his complaint, Hasz alleged that Corrections Director David Shinn prohibited facial protection “because he believed that masked officers would scare the inmates.”

“This reasoning is ridiculous and Director Shinn’s decision is putting the health of the staff, inmates and the general public at increased risk,” Hasz’s complaint said.

Hasz said supervisors had been prohibiting staff members who brought their own masks from wearing them.

None of the approximately 42,000 inmates in state custody have tested positive for COVID-19, the department said. Thirty-nine inmates had tested negative and five results were pending as of Friday.

The department has been requiring all staff members entering prison facilities to undergo a check for symptoms. Employees with symptoms are sent home immediately.

Additionally, inmates with symptoms are being separated from the general prison population and being monitored, the department said.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

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