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Coconino County jail suspends some incarcerations because of COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 Jail
Matt York/AP, file
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The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office says it will temporarily stop incarcerating some non-violent arrestees because of spiking COVID-19 cases in the county jail.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office says it will temporarily stop incarcerating some non-violent arrestees because of spiking COVID-19 cases in the county jail. It comes as staff say they’re at a critical point in being able to slow infections.

According to sheriff’s officials, staff at the Coconino County Detention Facility in Flagstaff aren’t able to fully segregate inmates who’ve tested positive. Last week, they stopped accepting non-violent misdemeanor offenders in an attempt to limit the number of people entering the facility and create more space for inmate quarantine.

The jail is experiencing its first major outbreak to date during the pandemic. Officials say they’ve previously been able to isolate the small numbers of inmates who’ve tested positive and have at times gone months without a confirmed case. But the current surge driven by the omicron variant has caused infections to spike dramatically.

The sheriff’s office last week said 44 inmates and 11 detention officers were confirmed positive and officials have begun mass testing at the jail.

Vaccination rates have risen to about 80% of inmates at the detention facility. Officials say there haven’t been any in-custody COVID deaths and only three inmates have been hospitalized for the virus.

In March 2020, sheriff’s officials, fearing a mass outbreak at the jail, released about 50 nonviolent inmates amid the worsening pandemic. In all, more than 300 inmates and over 100 detention officers have tested positive for COVID in Coconino County.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.