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$400K fine sought against Arizona in prison health care case

FILE - This July 23, 2014, file photo shows a state prison in Florence, Ariz. Lawyers representing inmates are asking a judge to slap a $400,000 contempt of court fine against the state of Arizona for failing to adequately provide specialty care for inmates at the Florence prison, which has the highest number of inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state's prisons. The proposed fine is being sought for noncompliance before the pandemic was officially declared. Still, the lawyers said it doesn't bode well that corrections officials couldn't adequately carry out the requirement before the coronavirus emergency emerged. (AP Photo/File)

PHOENIX (AP) — The number of inmates in Arizona’s prisons who have tested positive for the coronavirus reached 121 on Wednesday, twice as many as earlier this week.

Three prisons reported their first cases of COVID-19, including the state prison in Yuma that has at least 34. The prison in Florence has the most with 63. Officials previously said five prisoners have died from the virus.

In addition, 62 corrections employees have tested positive along with 18 employees and five inmates in county jails.

Health Services Department Director Dr. Cara Christ said Tuesday that the state was going to expand its testing capacity for prisoners and corrections employees.

Prisons, jails and detention centers are believed to be vulnerable spots for the spread of the virus because inmates with compromised health live in close quarters. With nearly 42,000 prisoners, the state has said 6,600 are considered medically vulnerable because of their health and being at least 60.

The families of inmates and advocates for prisoners say the state is unprepared for an outbreak in correctional facilities, explaining that corrections officials were slow in taking precautions against the virus and didn’t have enough cleaning supplies.

Corrections officials have said they were separating inmates with flu-like symptoms from the general prison population, providing soap for cleaning housing areas and practicing good hygiene and waiving a $4 medical co-payment that inmates must pay for receiving treatment for cold and flu symptoms. The officials have said their top priority is the health and safety of staff, inmates and the communities they serve.