Details released on first deaths from coronavirus in Arizona prisons

Details have been released on the first two deaths from COVID-19 in prisons located in Arizona.

First fatality

The first fatality from the coronavirus in Arizona’s prisons came two weeks ago when a 64-year-old prisoner with diabetes died at a hospital in Tucson.

Joseph M. Assyd died as a result of COVID-19 after suffering a respiratory infection, Pima County Medical Examiner Gregory Hess said on Monday.

Even after a medical examiner confirmed with The Associated Press that Assyd had died from COVID-19, corrections officials said on Monday that they hadn’t received verification of his cause of death and hadn’t yet had a COVID-19 death among inmates that was confirmed by county medical examiners.

Assyd, who serving a life sentence for convictions in 1995 for first-degree murder and kidnapping in Maricopa County, was taken to Banner University Medical Center in Tucson on March 27 and died there on April 12, according to prison records.

Second fatality

The second fatality from COVID-19 was a man with lung cancer, according to the Associated Press.

The prisoner known as Sittingdown, who didn’t have a first name and also was known as Robert E. Proell, died Friday of COVID-19 and lung cancer, according to André Davis, investigations supervisor at Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office, on Tuesday.

Sittingdown, who had been in prison for the last 35 years for four convictions from Mohave County for sexual conduct with a minor, was housed at the prison in Florence. Sittingdown was taken to a hospital in Florence on April 18 and died there six days later, according to records.

Dozens of inmates have tested positive

47 inmates in Arizona’s prisons have tested positive for the virus. The most cases were reported at the state prison in Florence, which accounted for 32 cases, including five death row inmates who have tested positive.

Only one case was reported at the state prison in Tucson where Assyd was housed before he was brought to the hospital.

Many prisons, jails, and detention centers across the United States are experiencing outbreaks of the virus, including nearly 4,000 prisoners who fell ill in Ohio. Those facilities are believed to be vulnerable spots for the spread of the coronavirus because inmates with compromised health live in close quarters.

The Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry said in a statement that it hasn’t received verification from the medical examiner that Assyd died from COVID-19. “At this time, the department does not have an inmate death due to COVID19 confirmed by a county medical examiner,” the agency said in a statement.

Lawyers for inmates maintain prisons are unprepared, saying inmates have been given inadequate cleaning supplies and that prison health care operations suffer from staffing shortages and limited infirmary space.

Previously, corrections officials said they were separating prisoners with flu-like symptoms from the general prison population, providing soap for cleaning housing areas and hygiene, and waiving a $4 medical copayment that prisoners must pay for receiving treatment for cold and flu symptoms.

Of the state’s nearly 42,000 prisoners, the state has said 6,600 are considered medically vulnerable because of their health and being at least 60.

Overall, Arizona has more than 6,700 confirmed cases of the virus, with 275 deaths.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

MAP: Worldwide interactive Coronavirus case data

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code


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