As COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the state, there has been a spike in the number of inmates in Maricopa County jails who have tested positive.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that 203 inmates have tested positive as of Monday evening, according to jail officials. By comparison, there were 30 reported cases Thursday.

Corrections officials attribute the spike to increased testing of inmates and the use of contact tracing throughout the county’s detention facilities, AP reported.

However, mass testing has not been administered. Fields Moseley, a county communications director, told the AP it is being considered as a way to manage the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Jails and prisons pose specific challenges to preventing the spread of COVID-19 because of close quarters, limited outdoor space and sanitation challenges, among other issues. Some facilities have released inmates to reduce population.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry has reported a slightly higher number of cases throughout state prisons. Of the 2,013 inmates tested, 242 cases have come back positive. Four inmates have died of the illness, prison officials confirm.

In a statement Wednesday, the Department of Corrections extended its suspension of legal and personal visits through July 13. Video visitation, which was implemented May 10, will continue for eligible inmates. The suspension will be reevaluated in July, the statement read.

In a statement to AP, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone’s office said that if one inmate in a jail pod tests positive for the virus, the entire pod will be tested and quarantined. In addition, face masks are provided, and suspects entering the system will go through a screening process during booking, the statement said.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sent a letter to Penzone’s office, demanding testing for all incarcerated in Maricopa County jails.

In March, the ACLU demanded Gov. Doug Ducey release a number of inmates to ease overcrowding, saying, “The Arizona Department of Corrections has proven itself repeatedly incapable of providing basic medical care.”

Nineteen Maricopa County detention officers have tested positive for COVID-19, and the sheriff’s office is said to be working on identifying staff members who may have had contact with COVID-19 positive inmates.

As of Wednesday, June 10, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 29,852 cases of COVID-19 and 1,095 deaths in the state. It said 416,944 tests for COVID-19 have been completed as of June 10 in public and private labs in Arizona, and 7.16% of tests have come back positive for the virus. Less than 6% of Arizona’s 7.2 million residents have been tested to date.

Blood donations being testing for antibodies

Vitalent, an Arizona nonprofit blood services provider, announced it will test all blood donations it processes for COVID-19 antibodies. The test, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, determines whether an individual may be eligible to donate convalescent plasma, which has been used to treat some of those recovering from COVID-19. However, the test does not determine whether someone is immune to the coronavirus that causes the disease.

Genetically engineered mice developed to test vaccine

Researchers at the University of Arizona are creating genetically engineered mice to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Because normal mice can’t contract COVID-19, UArizona has developed seven mice that can get sick, which will be used for testing.

Native American vulnerability to COVID-19

Two Diné College professors have published a research paper detailing the heavy impact of COVID-19 on Native Americans. Drs. Joseph DeSoto and Shazia Tabassum Hakim’s paper was accepted for publication in the Journal of Biomedical Research and Reviews on May 29. The infection rate among Navajos living on the reservation in the Four Corners area is the highest in the nation, and the paper describes some of the possible causes of this issue.

How to help

Phoenix nonprofit Southwest Human Development has a COVID-19 basic needs drive in which online donors purchase essentials – such as baby wipes, diapers, formula and sanitizers – for families and child care centers in need. Prices range from $6.99 to $5,000.


Story by Haley Lorenzen, Cronkite News