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Arizona prison workers have tested positive for coronavirus

(Arizona Department of Corrections Photo)

PHOENIX — The risk of Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry staffers testing positive for coronavirus has become a reality, the director said Tuesday.

David Shinn told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show there have been cases among the staff “over time,” though he did not know how many.

The department declined to share the number, citing privacy of its employees.

“The greatest threat that we face right now is not within our prisons, it is truly within our communities,” Shinn said.

The department extended its suspension of visitors by 30 days as of Sunday. The halt will go through May 13 and be re-evaluated around that time.

Nine inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 and four tests were pending as of Tuesday morning, according to the ADCRR website. Seventy-seven of the 41,701 inmates had been tested.

Shinn said that one facility, which he did not identify, saw an uptick in flu-like symptoms. Officers brought the needed daily resources including food and medicine straight to the rooms of any inmate displaying symptoms.

“We minimized the number of essential personnel who needed to enter that area to effectively control transmission of disease,” he said.

The Eyman and Marana facilities have both had three positive cases as of Tuesday morning. Florence had two and Tucson had one.

“It is difficult to create social distancing in spaces that were not designed for that purpose,” Shinn said.

In an attempt to prevent new cases from entering facilities from the outside, the state is now waiting 14 days before transferring convicted people from county jails to prisons.

“Last Friday we began receiving small groups of 250 offenders from county jails at a time,” Shinn said. “We will hold those in 14-day cohorts and will be accepting groups on a weekly basis to allow us to effectively manage that.”

He said the department has continued daily safety measures inside facilities, including making sure groups of inmates who live and hang out together during the day stay in one group and limit interactions with others.

In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation for all staff working inside jails and prisons to wear face masks. The department, which a whistleblower had accused of not allowing officers to wear masks, on April 3 began recommending staff wear a non medical, cloth face covering while conducting essential business.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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