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Arizona prisons director says coronavirus measures working

(AP Photo, file)

PHOENIX – The top official of Arizona’s state prisons said the plans implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus among inmates is working.

“Based on [the numbers], we’ve had a pretty successful strategy for managing COVID-19,” David Shinn, director of Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry said Thursday on KTAR 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show.

“To date, we have tested 519 inmates throughout the system – 356 have returned negative and 121 have been confirmed positive,” he said.

“We have 62 staff who have self-reported positive COVID status.”

Of the infected staff, 39 have been certified as recovered.

According to the department’s COVID-19 dashboard, there has been one confirmed death from the virus and four were not yet confirmed as virus-caused.

The daily population total was listed as 41,299, meaning .29% of inmates in state custody have tested positive.

Shinn said one of the reasons the number was low was because of “compartmentalization, our version of social distancing.”

Although the confines of prison aren’t conducive to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s standard of 6 feet for social distancing, Shinn’s department adapted.

“What we have tried to do is break down the populations to the smallest groups possible, and then keep those groups together and limit the amount of interaction that they’ve had.”

Three prisons reported their first cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including the state prison in Yuma that has at least 34. The prison in Florence has the most with 63.

The first positive test for a state inmate was reported April 7.

Every inmate who has presented with any symptom of the virus has been tested, Shinn said.

“We’ve asked inmates to identify themselves, we’ve asked our staff to identify inmates and we’ve asked inmates to identify inmates who may be sick or feeling ill and not had the opportunity to report to our staff.”

Democrats in the State Legislature have been seeking more transparency from prison officials on how the department was addressing virus issues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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