Arizona COVID-19 Confirmed Deaths Spike on Tuesday After No Deaths Reported Monday

By Brandy Rae Ramirez

April 28, 2020

Two weeks ago, a prisoner with diabetes died at a hospital as a result of COVID-19 after suffering a respiratory infection. Over the last week, Arizona corrections officials declined to comment on whether any prisoners have died from the virus.

On Monday, Arizona reported no new deaths related to COVID-19, but that wasn’t the case for Tuesday’s Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) update.

Arizona is now up to 6,948 confirmed coronavirus cases with an additional 18 confirmed deaths for a total of 293.

That number included the first COVID-19 prison fatality.

Two weeks ago, 64-year-old prisoner with diabetes, Joseph M. Assyd, died at a hospital in Tucson as a result of COVID-19 after suffering a respiratory infection, Pima County Medical Examiner Gregory Hess said on Monday. 

This undated photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows Joseph M. Assyd, who was sentenced to life in prison for 1995 convictions for murder and kidnapping in Maricopa County. He became the first inmate in Arizona prisons to die from COVID-19. (Arizona Department of Corrections via AP)

Over the last week, Arizona corrections officials have declined to say whether any prisoners had died from the virus.

According to prison records, Assyd, who is 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.

RELATED: Arizona Reported No New COVID-19 Deaths Today

Thus far, 47 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. Five of the cases found in Florence were with inmates on death row.

Only one case was reported at the state prison in Tucson where Assyd was housed before he was brought to the hospital.

Although the Pima County Medical Examiner confirmed Assyd’s death was related to COVID-19, the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry claimed it didn’t receive verification from the medical examiner.

“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.

RELATED: Have COVID-19 Symptoms? Arizona State Fairgrounds Now Has Testing

With the continued cases and deaths, Gov. Doug Ducey announced plans Monday to test up to 60,000 Arizonans over the course of three weekends, starting May 2, with onsite drive-thru testing.

Testing sites include some Banner Health facilities and Walgreens stores, and criteria will be set by each individual location. Testing sites and dates will be continuously updated, the announcement said.

“Arizona has placed an emphasis on ramping up testing, but we need more,” wrote Ducey, whose March 30 stay-at-home order is set to expire Thursday.

The Associated Press and Cronkite News contributed to this report.

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