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More Than 500 Inmates Test Positive For COVID-19 At Arizona Prison In Tucson

The Arizona Department of Corrections announced late Tuesday evening that 517 inmates at the Tucson prison have tested positive for COVID-19. 

People incarcerated at the Whetstone Unit in the Tucson prison told their families last week that the entire yard had been recently tested for COVID-19. On Tuesday, the results came back, and almost half of the 1,066 inmates in the unit were positive.

Kati Butera, whose husband is incarcerated at the Whetstone Unit, said he got his positive test result after experiencing migraines, night sweats and chills.

“It doesn’t seem like they tried to stop this from spreading," Butera said. "I just feel like the system has totally failed all of us.”

She says her husband lives in a large, dormitory style facility where the virus can easily spread among the inmates.

In a press release, a Department of Corrections spokesperson said "inmates who tested positive are currently being housed as a cohort together in separate areas and are receiving appropriate medical care."

But according to Butera's husband, the Department of Corrections didn't separate inmates until Tuesday night, hours after the results were shared with patients, and five days after they were tested.

"If half the yard tested positive last week, they all must have it now," Butera said.

The outbreak is hitting the Tucson prison after a recent inmate walkout. Inmates expressed their frustration over the way an inmate death was handled by the Department of Corrections, the lack of testing for COVID-19 and continued inmate movements between units.

Butera says the men at Whetstone were still being sent to other units to work jobs, and inmates have been moved into her husband's unit recently from other units. 

"We all know our loved ones have been moved around, unit to unit, after (the Department of Corrections) told us they weren't going to be doing that," she said, "and that has contributed to the spread."

According to the Department of Corrections dashboard, 15 of 16 state prisons are now infected and at least 21 inmates have died from COVID-19.

→  Read The Latest News On The Coronavirus Disease 

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.