Arizona prison system reports first 2 inmate coronavirus cases
PHOENIX – The Arizona state prison system reported its first two cases of coronavirus among inmates on Tuesday night.
The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry said in a press release 60 of its approximately 42,000 inmates have been tested for the virus that causes COVID-19, with 48 negative results and 10 results pending.
The first positive test was in an inmate who has been in a community hospital since March 27 for symptoms unrelated to COVID-19. He tested negative twice and came up positive the third time and remains in the same hospital, which was not identified in the release.
The other case is an inmate at the Marana Community Correctional Treatment Facility, who is being treated in that location. The minimum-security facility for substance-abuse treatment is operated by a company contracted by the state corrections department and has about 500 male inmates.
Prisons are believed to be vulnerable spots for the spread of the coronavirus because inmates with compromised health live in close quarters.
Arizona prison personnel separate inmates with flu-like symptoms from the general population for monitoring and appropriate care, the department said.
Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday that cloth face masks have been obtained for all corrections officers and more testing is planned, but ruled out early release for vulnerable inmates.
“Not only are we focused on protecting public health, we’re continuing to focus on protecting public safety,” he said. “And we’re not going to be releasing any prisoners at this time.”
Advocates for inmates on Tuesday asked the state Department of Health Services director to order inspections of state prisons to help guard against the coronavirus, saying corrections officials have not consistently followed COVID-19 prevention guidelines and have done an inadequate job of keeping the public informed on those efforts.
A coalition of advocacy groups said in a letter that corrections officials have called for weekly deep cleaning of housing areas but that guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for daily cleanings of shared surfaces.
The groups raised questions about whether enough soap was being given to inmates to adequately clean housing areas and practice good hygiene and whether health care checks of employees were being consistently conducted at all prisons.
“The risk to lives of the tens of thousands of people in Arizona prisons and public health of Arizona communities is clear and demands immediate action to protect those who live and work in these facilities, as well as the public at large,” the coalition’s letter said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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