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COVID-19 outbreak at Eloy private prison turns fatal, mass testing underway

By: - November 2, 2020 8:20 am
covid 19 coronavirus

A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation. Photo by Kena Betancur | Getty Images

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety ordered mass testing at an Arizona private prison that holds its inmates after dozens of them contracted COVID-19 and several remain hospitalized. 

Hawaii houses more than 1,000 inmates at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, a private prison run by CoreCivic. 

The facility, which has a capacity for about 2,000 adults, also holds inmates from Idaho, Kansas and Nevada, CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said.

On Thursday, the Idaho Department of Correction said one of the 438 men it incarcerates at Saguaro died in a Casa Grande hospital where he had been hospitalized since Oct. 1 for treatment of COVID-like symptoms.

On Monday, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety reported that 52 of its inmates had COVID-19 and were in “medical isolation” and another 741 inmates were “in a precautionary 14-day quarantine.”

The agency ordered all its inmates at the Saguaro facility to be tested. 

“The recent increase in positive cases among Hawaii’s population at Saguaro prompted the Hawaii Department of Public Safety to direct Saguaro to implement broad-based testing to identify hotspots and mitigate spread,” Hawaii DPS spokesman Toni Schwartz said in an email.

The number of COVID-19 cases kept increasing during the week. Schwartz said as of Oct. 29, there were 61 inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 and another six were in the hospital. 

Mass testing was completed at Saguaro on Oct. 29 for 1,011 inmates, according to Hawaii DPS. 

While Arizona prisoners are incarcerated at the facility, the Saguaro prison neighbors two federal immigration detention centers and a prison that holds people under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Recovery — all of which are also operated by CoreCivic. 

Gilchrist, the CoreCivic spokeswoman, said mass testing had been conducted at two Arizona federal immigration facilities, the Eloy Detention Center and the La Palma Correctional Center, which leads the nation in COVID-19 positive cases. 

Arizona’s correctional agency has also tested all of its incarcerated population for COVID-19, as the state said in June that it would do.

“The mass testing began in August and was completed in early September,”  ADCRR spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said in an email. “ADCRR continues to conduct broad testing including the testing of all inmates upon intake and a week prior to scheduled release. ADCRR continues to isolate and test inmates with flu-like symptoms and continues to retest as needed.”

As of Oct. 30, Arizona’s prison population was almost 39,000 people. The agency reported that 19 inmates had died of COVID-19 and 2,636 had tested positive for the virus. 

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.