PHOENIX (AP) — The number of inmates in Arizona’s prisons who have tested positive for the coronavirus reached 121 on Wednesday, twice as many as earlier this week.
Three prisons reported their first cases of COVID-19, including the state prison in Yuma that has at least 34. The prison in Florence has the most with 63. Officials previously said five prisoners have died from the virus.
In addition, 62 corrections employees have tested positive along with 18 employees and five inmates in county jails.
Health Services Department Director Dr. Cara Christ said Tuesday that the state was going to expand its testing capacity for prisoners and corrections employees.
Prisons, jails and detention centers are believed to be vulnerable spots for the spread of the virus because inmates with compromised health live in close quarters. With nearly 42,000 prisoners, the state has said 6,600 are considered medically vulnerable because of their health and being at least 60.
The families of inmates and advocates for prisoners say the state is unprepared for an outbreak in correctional facilities, explaining that corrections officials were slow in taking precautions against the virus and didn’t have enough cleaning supplies.
Corrections officials have said they were separating inmates with flu-like symptoms from the general prison population, providing soap for cleaning housing areas and practicing good hygiene and waiving a $4 medical co-payment that inmates must pay for receiving treatment for cold and flu symptoms. The officials have said their top priority is the health and safety of staff, inmates and the communities they serve.
Across Arizona, more than 12,000 cases and 594 deaths have been reported. The actual number of people infected is likely much higher because many with mild symptoms don’t seek testing and many who did were turned away for months because of a supply shortage.
Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday he'll let gyms and public swimming pools reopen and will allow his stay-at-home order to expire Friday as he continues easing restrictions imposed to slow the outbreak.
Ducey said lifting his stay-home order is safe because of a declining rate of cases, though it would be expected to decline since Arizona opened testing to people who aren't showing symptoms. He also cited sufficient hospital capacity and growing abilities to test people and trace their contacts.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
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