PHOENIX – On Tuesday, 517 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex Tucson Whetstone Unit tested positive for COVID-19, according to officials. 

The inmates who tested positive, which make up nearly half the unit’s population of 1,066 inmates, are being housed together in separate areas and receiving medical care, according to a statement released by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry on Tuesday night. 

The department did not immediately respond to questions, including when tests were performed and whether every inmate there was tested.

The tests came after inmates at the Whetstone Unit staged a peaceful walkout on Thursday due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 inside the facility, according to a report by KOLD-TV in Tucson. 

Inmates told staff they wanted to remain on lockdown and have their lunches delivered to them, according to KOLD. 

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The 517 new cases is a 72% jump in the department’s identified COVID-19 cases. 

The department previously reported a total of 890 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates statewide, with 225 tests pending as of Monday, when 222 inmates in Tucson had tested positive out of 690 inmates tested. 

Inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Whetstone Unit will not be allowed to return to the general population until they are medically cleared, the statement said. In addition, all inmates will receive meals and required medication and medical services in their housing units. 

Since July 2, the department has provided inmates with fabric face coverings, the statement said. 

Staff in those areas are also equipped with full personal protective equipment, including N-95 masks, gowns, gloves and face shields, and all prison complex staff have been required to wear cloth face coverings since June 15, according to the statement. 

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Rigorous cleaning took place throughout the unit, but will now increase due to the test results, according to the department. 

In June, Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said that Arizona would test all inmates, but she did not offer a timeline for when this would occur. 

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry reported that 7,121 inmates out of Arizona’s prison daily population of 39,262 people had been tested as of Monday, or about 18%. 

According to the department’s COVID-19 dashboard, about 2.27% of those tested were found to be positive for COVID-19, and six deaths had been confirmed as of Monday.

The new cases in the prison represent a large jump in identified cases in the county as a whole. On Tuesday, Pima County reported just 68 new cases of COVID-19, according to Arizona Department of Health Services data. 

Follow Audrey Jensen on Twitter: @Audreyj101.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 517 Tucson, Arizona inmates test positive for COVID-19 Tuesday


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