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Arizona prison director says COVID actions can’t keep virus from entering

(Arizona Department of Corrections Photo)

PHOENIX — Despite following COVID-19 protocol safety measures, the head of the department of corrections said his agency can’t keep the virus out of state prisons.

“We’re unable to close that front door. … We continue that flow of transfers from [county admissions] to us. The courts continue to process criminal cases as well and we can’t stop that part of things,” David Shinn, director of Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show Thursday.

More than half of the 1,066 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex Yuma La Paz Unit have tested positive for coronavirus, according to data released Tuesday.

“So as we test folks and we get those results, we react immediately to that,” he said.

Inmates who test positive are housed separately from the rest of the population to try and prevent spread of the disease, Shinn said. Medication, meals and medical care are brought directly to the positive individuals.

Shinn added that different systems from congregate care facilities to prisons to local jails are all seeing upticks in cases.

More than 42,000 inmates across the state have been tested to date, according to the department’s data dashboard. Of those tests, 4,295 have been positive. Twenty-six inmate deaths from coronavirus have been confirmed.

Shinn said the coronavirus recovery rate is 99% throughout prisons statewide.

As talks of the coronavirus vaccine ramp up, Shinn confirmed health care workers inside prisons will receive the shot first, followed by correction officers, vulnerable inmates and then the rest of the inmate population.

“The moment that the vaccine is available and delivered to us, we will distribute that vaccine in hours, a day or two at most,” he said. “We have plans that are ready to act once it’s received.”

This is the second time a state prison has endured an outbreak of COVID-19.

In August, more than 500 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex Tucson Whetstone Unit tested positive for the virus.

For Arizona vaccine information, visit

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