Prison officers across Arizona are contracting COVID-19 but the Arizona Department of Corrections is declining to release statistics about the number of employees who are infected.
“We’re dropping like flies at work,” said one officer, who tested positive and asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation. “I think we’re all going to get it. It’s just a matter of when because as officers we all work close together.”
The officer, who provided ABC15 with a copy of their COVID-19 test results, said there are a handful of others in the same unit who have had positive confirmations.
“There’s another thing that scares me,” the officer told ABC15. “What if I get better and go back to work and what if I get it again?”
Carlos Garcia, the executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, said he can confirm 20 officers across the state prison system who have tested positive.
But Garcia believes there are many more who aren’t members of the union or haven’t been tested because it isn’t required or funded by the department.
In a statement Tuesday, Department of Corrections officials didn’t directly answer questions about the number of officers who tested positive and whether the state will release those numbers publicly.
“The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry is taking ongoing, proactive measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread in our facilities. The health and safety of staff, inmates and the communities we serve remains our top priority. Consistent with federal and state laws and ADHS, we have a commitment to protect against the spread of COVID-19 and preserve the privacy of our employee’s personal health information.”
Nothing in state or federal law prevents the release of the number of officers who have tested positive.
In fact, the Arizona Attorney General issued a legal opinion last month stating that government agencies can release the number and general location of positive cases, like a campus dorm or prison facility.
Several other states' corrections departments are also openly posting that information online, including California and Ohio.
Arizona has lagged behind other states in releasing information like creating an online dashboard of inmate testing information.
In Arizona, correctional officers were only recently permitted to wear their own masks into prison facilities.
Last week, the department announced it would have inmate work crews make masks for officers.
“It’s made out of their material for their underwear,” the officer said. “They handed out those underwear masks a little too late. I was already sick unbeknownst to me.”
So far, 10 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening.
The state has tested 88 out of 41,701 prisoners. A total of 0.21 percent of the prison population.