1st death from the coronavirus surfaces in Arizona prisons
PHOENIX (AP) — The first fatality from the coronavirus in Arizona’s prisons came two weeks ago when a 64-year-old prisoner with diabetes died at a hospital in Tucson.
Joseph M. Assyd died as a result of COVID-19 after suffering a respiratory infection, Pima County Medical Examiner Gregory Hess said on Monday. Over the last week, Arizona corrections officials have declined to say whether any prisoners had died from the virus.
Assyd, who serving a life sentence for convictions in 1995 for first-degree murder and kidnapping in Maricopa County, was taken to Banner University Medical Center in Tucson on March 27 and died there on April 12, according to prison records.
Forty-seven inmates in Arizona’s prisons have tested positive for the virus. The most cases were reported at the state prison in Florence, which accounted for 32 cases, including five death row inmates who have tested positive.
Only one case was reported at the state prison in Tucson where Assyd was housed before he was brought to the hospital.
Many prisons, jails and detention centers across the United States are experiencing outbreaks of the virus, including nearly 4,000 prisoners who fell ill in Ohio. Those facilities are believed to be vulnerable spots for the spread of the coronavirus because inmates with compromised health live in close quarters.
The Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry said in a statement that it hasn’t received verification from the medical examiner that Assyd died from COVID-19. “At this time, the department does not have an inmate death due to COVID19 confirmed by a county medical examiner,” the agency said in a statement.
Lawyers for inmates maintain prisons are unprepared, saying inmates have been given inadequate cleaning supplies and that prison health care operations suffer from staffing shortages and limited infirmary space.
Previously, corrections officials said they were separating prisoners with flu-like symptoms from the general prison population, providing soap for cleaning housing areas and hygiene, and waiving a $4 medical copayment that prisoners must pay for receiving treatment for cold and flu symptoms.
Of the state’s nearly 42,000 prisoners, the state has said 6,600 are considered medically vulnerable because of their health and being at least 60.
Overall, Arizona has more than 6,700 confirmed cases of the virus, with 275 deaths.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.