More positive cases of COVID-19 in Phoenix jails than Arizona state prisons

The number of jail inmates in metro Phoenix who have tested positive for the coronavirus has surpassed the total among state prisoners.

Officials say 313 of Maricopa County’s 4,400 inmates had tested positive as of Friday morning, compared to 252 confirmed cases among the nearly 41,000 inmates in Arizona’s prisons.

A week ago, 30 inmates in the county’s jails had tested positive. The sharp growth has been attributed to more testing and contact tracing within the jails. County officials are considering whether to test all jail inmates.

Nineteen of the county’s jail employees and 117 state prison employees have tested positive. On Friday, Arizona Corrections Director told KTAR radio that all state prison employees will be tested.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the county’s jails, has said it has undertaken a series of preventative steps, such as screening all suspects during booking, suspending visitation, providing face masks to inmates and employees and limiting the movement of inmates. The sheriff’s office is working to identify staff members who may have had contact with inmates who contracted the virus.

In anticipation of outbreaks within its jails, Maricopa County’s jail population has been reduced by more than one-third — from 7,100 in December to about 4,500.

The reductions were made through a series of measures, such as the courts temporarily suspending the sentences of inmates who were allowed to leave jail to go to work and police agencies citing and releasing nonviolent suspects rather than taking them into custody.

Arizona is one of several states hit with a surge in new COVID-19 cases after stay-at-home orders were lifted last month. The state has been seeing more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases per day.

The state hit a new daily high Friday with 1,654 new cases reported. Officials also confirmed 17 additional deaths. With those numbers, Arizona has 32,918 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,144 deaths from the virus since March.

Gov. Doug Ducey dismissed mounting concerns Thursday about the state’s alarming rise in cases and instead focused on hospitals’ capacity to care for patients rather than slowing the spread of the virus.

“That’s what’s most important when there is a rise in cases,” Ducey said. “Because a rise in cases could result in a rise of severe illness that requires hospitalization. I want every Arizonan to be able to have the medical care and comfort and resources necessary and today we are able to provide that.”

Arizona State University announced Friday it was immediately requiring all students, employees and visitors to wear face masks while in campus buildings and at outdoor locations where social distancing isn’t possible to help curb spread of the coronoavirus.

The requirement previously announced for the fall semester was accelerated to start immediately because of the increase in COVID-19 cases in Arizona and “a lax attitude toward face coverings and other social distancing measures” since Ducey lifted stay-home order, President Michael Crow said in a statement.

Crow also cited a request from a group of business leaders.

For most people, the new 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.