Virus cases in jails in Phoenix exceed state prison total

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

Officials say 290 of Maricopa County’s 4,400 inmates had tested positive as of Thursday, compared to 249 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.

MORE: Virus cases rise sharply in metro Phoenix county jails

Nineteen of the county’s jail employees and 116 state prison employees have tested positive.

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 36% 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.

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Across the state, 1,412 new cases and 32 new deaths were reported as of Thursday. With those numbers, Arizona has 31,264 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,127 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.”

MORE: Ducey touts hospitals, dismisses concerns over rise in virus cases

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.

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