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State Correctional Facilities could be potential superspreaders of COVID-19

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Correctional facilities are often overlooked since the people in there cannot leave. But that means if the virus gets in, it could spread quickly and infect the officers and staff as well.

The Arizona Department of Corrections has been working to prevent officers and inmates from getting the virus since earlier this year. The department said in part.

"Keeping our staff, inmates and communities safe continues to be a top priority. Each day all employees entering any Arizona prison complex continue to undergo required temperature and symptom checks at each facility," Carlos Garcia, the executive director for the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association said. "All prison complex staff have been required to wear face coverings since June 15. On July 2, all inmates were provided fabric face coverings for their use."

Garcia said the State Department is not being open enough with the staff.

"The department tries to cover as much as possible so that it doesn't seem so bad," Garcia said. "The officers themselves know that this is critical. They are stuck between two worlds. They work in the prison as an officer, but they are civilians on their off time."

That could be an issue because if one staff worker brings the virus to the correctional facility and even just one inmate picks it up. It could spread quickly since those prisoners can't separate.

Garcia also said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases are unacceptable for the inmates.

"2,800 inmates have been infected. Let me tell you that number again it is a huge number, 2,800," Garcia said. "19 have died. Those are whopping numbers."

The Arizona Department of Corrections tracks the cases on their website and their percent positivity rate is lower than the general population standing at under 8 percent since they began testing.

The Pima County Jail has gone above and beyond the CDC guidelines and have keep their positive cases under control.

"We have had no inmate-to-inmate transmissions to this point," Lt. Chad Binnion said. "That has been greatly due to all the measures that ourselves and the health department have put in place."

Carlos Garcia also told News 4 Tucson that social distancing is impossible in a correctional facility due to security reasons and that the department implemented the mask mandate a few months too late to prevent the spread.

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Daniel McFarland

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