Maricopa County health officials denied reports by the Sheriff's Office that 160 jail inmates had been quarantined two months ago because of four illegal immigrants with chicken pox.
Officials also downplayed a news release issued by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office last night about chicken pox found in immigrants busted yesterday, noting that such minor outbreaks don't normally make the news.
After our inquiries, MCSO Lieutenant Brian Lee said that Arpaio had, in fact, misspoken when he stated for the news release that a large-scale "quarantine" had taken place.
According to the release, deputies pulled over a van with 11 suspected illegal immigrants yesterday on Interstate 17 near Jomax Road. Four of the men in the van seemed sick, and deputies determined that one had chickenpox.
The release goes on to state:
Sheriff Joe Arpaio says that he has long argued the point that illegal immigration is not just a law enforcement problem but is a potential health hazard as well.
"This is a risk to our community and to my deputies," Arpaio says. "Deputies never know what they may face in the course of enforcing human smuggling laws."
Arpaio says that in the last two months, four inmates, all illegal aliens from the country of Mexico, were confirmed with having chicken pox, placing 160 inmates into immediate medical quarantine.
New Times first checked in with Maricopa County Correctional Health Systems, which takes care of the jail's medical needs. County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick called back to say CHS denies Arpaio's claim.
Nowhere near 160 inmates have been quarantined in the last few months, and no space exists at the jail that could handle such a big quarantine, Gerchick says.
A real quarantine involves putting the inmate in a sealed, "negative-airflow" environment that might have a chance at preventing a disease from spreading.
Told about the CHS response, Lieutenant Lee double-checked the facts.
"Technically," CHS is right, he said -- the 160 inmates were not quarantined two months ago.
However, at least that many inmates were placed in "medical isolation" at that time because of four illegal immigrants from Mexico who had chicken pox, he says. When someone is diagnosed with chicken pox in the crowded jail, he explained, the inmates who are exposed are moved to different cells. That way, if some of the exposed group are infected, they're less likely to infect the rest of the jail population or guards.
Lee says it's possible that some medical isolations have occurred in the last year or so because of non-immigrants with a disease. However, Mexican immigrants have been the sources of the most recent chicken pox cases, he says.
Gerchick also says that only two Mexican nationals from yesterday's traffic stop had seemed sick, including the one with chicken pox, not four. Lee acknowledges that might be correct, saying the news releasehad been written with preliminary information.
One thing is certain in all this: A few Mexicans did have chicken pox. But was that really news?
Not necessarily, says Dr. Bob England, the county's public health director.
The county recorded 160 outbreaks of various diseases last year, 13 from chicken pox, England says.
Three outbreaks in county jails or prisons last year involved "flu-like illnesses," though in 2008 officials recorded four outbreaks of chicken pox in the jails and prisons. But often, England says, such outbreaks occur in schools or daycare facilities.
Chicken pox is rarely fatal, but adults who catch it often become seriously ill. The virus that causes it, varicella, can be carried through the air and is highly contagious.
Sure, the disease can be cause for concern -- but it's not a "Mexican" problem, as the sheriff implies.
It seems that Arpaio put out this "news" only because it fit the bigoted viewpoint he related to GQ magazine last year:
All these people that come over, they could come with disease. There's no control, no health checks or anything. They check fruits and vegetables, how come they don't check people? No one talks about that! They're all dirty.
As many of the dozens of comments to Channel 15 (KNXV-TV) reveal, the chicken pox news release issued by Arpaio played well in the twisted minds of his most racist supporters:
well, all of the filth they catch here need to be sexually disfigured so they will never have a chance to reproduce
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Send the diseased illegals to live with obama
And so on.
Talk about a public health hazard.