UPDATE: Arizona has experienced the first known COVID-19 death-row fatality and the coronavirus is spreading on the state’s death row, lawyers for the prisoners have said.

Alfonso Salazar died from the virus on April 30, 2020, seven other death-row prisoners on death row in the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence have tested positive for coronavirus, and eleven others who have not been tested are showing symptoms of COVID-19, Dale Baich, chief of the federal defender capital habeas unit in the federal defender’s office that represents the state’s death-row prisoners told the media. That is a doubling in one week’s time from the four who tested positive for the virus and five who exhibited symptoms on April 23.

Baich expressed concern about the health and welfare of the prisoners on April 23, saying that “people who may have symptoms are not being tested.” Following Salazar’s death, he said “[t]he prison was slow to act and is not being transparent about its handling of the pandemic. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, medical care in Arizona prisons was poor and it is the subject of ongoing litigation.”

Arizona corrections officials declined to comment to the media about Salazar’s death.

The Arizona prison complex houses 3,600 prisoners, including the state’s 114 male death-row prisoners. The 22 cases of the disease reported in the facility on April 23 represented nearly two-thirds of the 34 cases then reported across Arizona’s prison system.

Patrick Bearup, the first of Arizona’s death-row prisoners to test positive, told the Associated Press that he and other COVID-positive prisoners were being quarantined in a dirty, roach-infested building without sufficient cleaning supplies and with poor water quality. In an interview, he said he had been sick for two weeks with body aches, nausea, and physical weakness that kept him confined to bed. “This is the sickest I have been in my life,” he said.

“Prisoners’ lives still matter,” Bearup said. “There are a lot of men in here in my community — I get what we are in here for. I get there’s crime and punishment, but this is not the punishment that was assigned to them.”

Prison officials said they were acting to reduce the spread of disease by separating prisoners with flu-like symptoms, providing soap, and waiving the usual $4 copay for prisoners seeking medical care for cold or flu symptoms.

In a lawsuit filed by Arizona prisoners, attorneys allege that the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry was not prepared for the pandemic, and that prisoners were being held in unsanitary conditions. They also said that medically vulnerable prisoners were being confined in crowded, dirty facilities without proper ventilation.

According to The Marshall Project, as of April 24, 2020, more than 9,000 prisoners nationwide had tested positive for coronavirus and 131 prisoners had died of COVID-19. Prisoners’ rights organizations have raised concerns that the conditions in prisons could result in rapid spread of the disease. As of April 22, the rate of illness among prisoners was more than 2.75 times the rate among the general population (696 cases per 100,000 vs. 250 per 100,000).


Jimmy Jenkins, Arizona Death Row Inmate Dies Of Complications From COVID-19, Fronteras, May 1, 2020; Jacques Billeaud, Lawyer: 4 Arizona death row inmates test pos­i­tive for virus, Associated Press, April 23, 2020; Katie Park, Tom Meagher, and Weihua Li, Tracking the Spread of Coronavirus in Prisons, The Marshall Project, April 24, 2020. [UPDATED May 1, 2020, fol­low­ing reports of the death of Alfonso Salazar.]