- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) - Two Arizona inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus in the first cases of infected prisoners reported since the beginning of the outbreak, officials said.

One of the inmates had been hospitalized since March 27 due to symptoms unrelated to the coronavirus and previously tested negatively twice at the hospital for the virus, the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry announced Tuesday night in a statement.

The department did not identify the hospital or say where the inmate had been incarcerated.

The second inmate tested positive at a privately operated state facility in the Tucson suburb of Marana, the department said. The Marana Community Correctional Treatment Facility is operated by Management and Training Corp. under contract with the state and provides custody and substance abuse treatment for 500 adult male inmates.

“Both inmates are receiving appropriate medical care at their current locations,” the department said.

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. The vast majority of people recover.

In Arizona, more than 2,500 coronavirus cases with 73 deaths had been reported as of Tuesday.

Prisons are believed to be vulnerable spots for the spread of the coronavirus because inmates with compromised health live in close quarters.

Arizona’s corrections system has more than 42,000 inmates.

Prison personnel separate inmates with flu-like symptoms from the general population for monitoring and appropriate care, the department said.

“Like many correctional systems nationwide, the department has experience managing infectious diseases at its facilities and is taking proactive measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the inmate population. “”

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.

In another development related to the pandemic, the Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an order allowing law school students and recent graduates to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney before they pass the bar exam.

In a letter to students and new graduates, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said there’s a chance the July exam will be postponed, although it is still scheduled for now.


AP reporter Bob Christie reported from Glendale, Arizona.

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