Southern Arizona Nursing Home Hit By COVID-19 While State Prisons Won’t Take New Inmates

PIMA COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER NOT INVOLVED WITH MOST DEATHS

COVID -19, commonly known as coronavirus [Slide courtesy CDC]

Recently convicted felons awaiting transfer from their county jail to begin serving a state prison sentence must remain where they are for at least 21 days in hopes of stopping the spread of COVID-19, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADC) announced Monday.

Agreements have been reached with every sheriff in Arizona to temporarily suspend admissions of newly convicted persons. The objective is to keep COVID-19 from getting a stronghold in any of the state’s 16 prison complexes, ADC Director David Shinn said.

“Today is another example of how law enforcement agencies across the State are working together to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus while maintaining public safety,” Shinn said. “I want to thank all 15 Sheriffs for their commitment and partnership.”

Currently, there are no known COVID-19 cases among ADC’s 42,000 inmates but it’s unclear how many inmates have been tested.  ADC also employs nearly 10,000 corrections officers, community supervisors, and support staff.

Another group at high-risk of COVID-19 are those living and working in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. Many of the residents often have preexisting conditions which make them more susceptible to infection.

Read more by Terri Jo Neff >>

On Monday, officials at Sapphire of Tucson announced that nearly 30 people who either reside at or work at the facility near Banner UMC South by Ajo Way and Country Club Road recently tested positive for COVID-19. Among those who tested positive are 24 residents and 3 employees.

According to Sapphire’s press release, visitors were restricted at the facility earlier this month as recommended by federal and state guidelines. It’s unknown at this time who or what was the source of infection, and the company’s announcement does not mention the medical condition of those who tested positive.

“Infection control, patient safety and patient care are our highest priorities,” the statement reads. “Members of our staff are also complying with guidelines for infection prevention and control. We have instructed any staff member who believes they may have been exposed to the virus, or are developing symptoms of respiratory infection, to leave work and self-isolate at home.”

The Sapphire test results became public about the same time Governor Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced all K-12 schools will remain shuttered for the remainder of the school year. The school closure order applies to Arizona’s district school and charter schools, while private schools fall under federal guidelines of a recommended closure until April 30.

Also on Monday, Ducey issued a stay-at-home order for all non-essential employees through April 30.

Related article: Ducey Issues Stay-At-Home Executive Order, Essential Activities Only Allowed

While public and charter schools were closed March 15 to prevent community spread of COVID-19, the social distancing strategy came too late for several of the 700 bridge players who took part in tournaments earlier this month, one of which was held at the Tucson Expo Center.

According to the American Contract Bridge League, two male players have tested positive for COVID-19, including one who immediately quarantined himself at a Tucson hotel after falling ill. A league official said the two men had interacted during one of the tournaments and had contact with each other at small club games.

Another player, a 79-year-old woman, died of respiratory issues days after one of the recent tournaments. It has not been announced whether COVID-19 contributed to her death.

Tracking the number of COVID-19 deaths was made easier last week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designated an International Classification of Disease code for COVID-19 deaths. The new code is to be used with all U.S. death certificates starting immediately, according to Dr. Steven Schwartz of the CDC’s National Division of Vital Statistics.

“COVID-19 should be reported on the death certificate for all decedents where the disease caused or is assumed to have caused or contributed to death,” the notice reads. “Certifiers should include as much detail as possible based on their knowledge of the case, medical records, laboratory testing, etc.”

Death certificates are usually completed by the attending physician at the time of death, after which a body is turned over to a funeral home. Only certain types of deaths fall under the jurisdiction of Pima County’s Office of the Medical Examiner, and of those many don’t require a full autopsy, according to Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess.

“The CDC recommendations are that COVID related deaths not have a postmortem examination, so if we do get involved we would try to follow that recommendation,” Hess told the Arizona Daily Independent. “We would either accept or decline jurisdiction based on the specific circumstances.”

Medical examiners have a 24/7 hotline to the CDC for consultation if an autopsy must be performed on a decedent known or suspected to have COVID-19. The hotline will also provide guidance for the submission of postmortem bodily fluids or tissue specimens for testing.