COVID-19 in Arizona: Two inmates test positive; state gets a ‘C’ in social distancing

PHOENIX – Two Arizona prison inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 have been isolated and are receiving treatment, Arizona Department of Corrections officials told the Arizona Republic Tuesday.

The first inmate tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes the deadly disease, despite twice testing negative in March. Where the inmate had been imprisoned and where he was hospitalized have not been undisclosed.

The Republic said the second inmate is housed at the Marana Community Correctional Treatment Facility, a private minimum-security prison in Marana that provides alcohol and substance abuse treatment to about 500 men.

Fifty-eight other inmates have been tested for COVID-19, with 48 negative results and pending results in the other 10, the Republic reported. Arizona corrections officials said the state has more than 42,000 inmates in custody.

Experts at the Prison Policy Initiative, a national nonprofit research group, warn that if the novel coronavirus is not contained properly within the prison system, the lives of tens of thousands of inmates, and the overall public health of Arizonans, could both be at risk.

The Republic also reported that attorneys for inmates have visited the Florence Correctional Facility last month and described “crowded, filthy, unventilated dorms, tents, and Quonset huts housing elderly, frail men with chronic health conditions and multiple disabilities.”

Across the United States, according to the Marshall Project, prisoners have difficulty accessing soap and hand sanitizer – which are considered essential items to keep the virus at bay. Hand sanitizer, specifically, is considered contraband in many prisons because of its high alcohol content, which officials fear can lead to abuse.

In a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Doug Ducey said the state would “not be releasing inmates at the time,” despite an order from U.S. Attorney General William Barr that called for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to expand its use of home confinement to alleviate the spread of COVID-19 among the incarcerated.

The Coconino County court system and jail has been the one system in Arizona to release inmates so far, the Arizona Daily Sun reported in March. Fifty inmates held on nonviolent charges were released last month.

As of Wednesday, April 8, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 2,726 cases of COVID-19 in the state, and 80 deaths. It said 34,564 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona and 32,066 of those tests were negative.

Visitors from high risk areas ordered to self-quarantine

Visitors to Arizona will face new restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. In an executive order Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Ducey ordered travelers from such high-risk areas as New York City to self-quarantine for 14 days. Exceptions are made for those deemed essential, such as health care workers, military personnel and airline employees.

Hospitals to increase data reported to health department

State officials are calling on hospitals to share more information on their treatment and diagnosis of COVID-19 patients. In an executive order Wednesday, Ducey ordered hospitals to expand the data they report daily to the Arizona Department of Health Services for at least the next 60 days. This includes the number of positive or suspected positive COVID-19 patients admitted, the number of said patients released, in addition to inventory reports on personal protection equipment as well as necessary equipment such as ICU beds and ventilators.

Walgreens drive thru tests coming to Arizona

National pharmacy chain Walgreens announced that Arizona will be among the seven states to host one of their 15 new national COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites. Although specific locations or how many will be in each state have yet to be revealed, the goal is to have them operating by the end of this week. The test kit being used will yield results within 15 minutes, and appointments will have to be made in advance, Walgreens officials said.

ADOT increases weight limit for commercial trucks

To improve the distribution of supplies to grocery stores, pharmacies and health care facilities, the Arizona Department of Transportation increased the gross weight limit allowed for traveling commercial trucks to 90,000 pounds. The previous limit was 80,000 without an overweight permit.

Phoenix sets passenger limits on public buses

In a unanimous vote, the Phoenix City Council passed passenger restrictions on public buses, set to go into effect on Monday, April 13. According to the measure, smaller buses will be limited to five passengers, 40-foot buses will be limited to 10, and 60-footers will be limited to 15. Exceptions will be made for those with disabilities, and drivers will use their discretion on when to skip stops due to a full bus.

Tracking data gives Arizona’s social distancing efforts a grade of ‘C’

When it comes to social distancing, tech companies who analyzed location data gave Arizona a “C.” Using location tracking data Google and Unacast found visits to recreation spots and restaurants have dipped 40%, to grocery stores by 17% and to parks by 7%. Although those drops are promising, the state’s average grade is based on the tracked decreases in people’s general movement and their nonessential visits, a mark that falls below the national average.

Arizona researchers team up to help fight COVID-19

TGen – the Translational Genomics Research Institute – announced Wednesday the formation of the Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union, a group of Arizona researchers dedicated to understanding how the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 evolves and spreads. The union plans to sequence samples of the virus found in COVID-19 patients to analyze the virus’ genetic codes, see where it may have come from and possibly reveal information that could help with the development of a vaccine.

Increased pressure on food and shelter nonprofits in Arizona

Unemployment rates are skyrocketing across the nation, leaving many Americans to turn to food and shelter non-profits for support. But as Cronkite News reports, many of these organizations in Arizona are struggling to find ways to increase service and food supplies to meet those needs. One nonprofit, Family Promise of Greater Phoenix, had to suspend its shelter and move families into day centers that weren’t originally meant for sleeping.

On Wednesday morning, Ducey announced he would allocate $10 million for meals to low-income Arizona residents. The money is provided through the Emergency Food Assistance Program, a federal program that provides emergency food assistance to low-income individuals who meet the eligibility requirements.

State Supreme Court provides parenting-time guidelines

Children of divorced parents must be allowed to continue visitation during the pandemic, according to guidelines issued Monday by the Arizona State Supreme Court. Judges say the coronavirus outbreak is “not a valid reason to deny parenting time,” so long as the custodial parent remains fit to care and shows no signs of illness. Any parent who tests positive, or lives with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, is directed to forgo visitation rights for 14 days.

How to help

New Empowerment for Refugees, a nonprofit in Glendale, is collecting Walmart gift cards for refugee families in Phoenix. Recently resettled refugees face added cultural, language and financial barriers, which can be exacerbated during a time of crisis and uncertainty. You can donate money online or mail gift cards to New Empowerment’s office at 5830 W. Greenbriar Drive, Glendale AZ, 85305.

Cronkite News reporter Caroline Linch contributed to this report.

Farah Eltohamy

Politics Reporter, Phoenix

Christopher Gleason

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

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