Open Memo Re: Reducing exposure to COVID-19 in the incarcerated population

Governor Doug Ducey
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone

From: Arizona Science Policy Network
Date: October 1, 2020
Re: Reducing exposure to COVID-19 in the incarcerated population

Summary Recommendation

In Arizona, the incarcerated, facility staff, and residents of surrounding communities face unique challenges in protecting themselves against COVID-19. As federal public health guidelines are not completely met, the most effective way of reducing the incarcerated population’s exposure to, transmission of, and death from COVID-19 is to immediately reduce the population density in facilities.

Significance of Impact

As of October 1, Arizona ranks 12th in the number of total COVID-19 deaths in prisons (28 total deaths, or 7 deaths per 100,000 prisoners). The number of known cases per 10,000 prisoners is 118% higher than cases in Arizona overall [1]. The majority of COVID-19 clusters in Arizona are connected to Arizona State Prison Complexes, including 305 cases in the Phoenix complex and 264 in the Lewis complex in Buckeye [2].

Inmates are 3 times more likely to die from and 5.5 times more likely to become infected by COVID-19 [3]. The risk of exposure and transmission is exacerbated by close quarters within facilities. Cells should have at least 25 square feet of unencumbered space per person [4], which does not permit social distancing at the recommended 6-foot distance between individuals. Additionally, the effectiveness of social distancing is greatly dependent on complementary practices such as mask-wearing, which is currently not required in Arizona for all incarcerated individuals [5]. According to the Prison Law Office, ADCRR and Centurion remain non-compliant or not transparent regarding frequency of disinfection, accessibility of COVID-19-related information, quarantining of new intakes, frequency of changing masks, and transferring those with positive cases from one unit or complex to another [6].

In response to the pandemic, jail/prison populations were initially reduced across the country. For example, Maricopa County saw a nearly 30% reduction in the jail population between the beginning of the pandemic and April 24 [7]. However, reductions across Arizona have leveled off or reversed altogether. Reductions in incarcerated and detained populations must be continued consistently throughout the entirety of the pandemic.

Recommendation Description

  1. Immediately give court orders to release those in prisons located in Maricopa County who have already been granted clemency.
  2. Immediately release those in jails held on non-violent charges, as was done in Coconino County [8].
  3. Immediately release those held in ICE detention centers who do not have criminal convictions.

Policy Trade-Offs

Administrators in ICE, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Arizona State Prison Complexes, and Maricopa County must balance concerns of public safety with public health. For example, the Maricopa County Attorney and Sheriff initially prioritized releasing those “not considered to be a risk to the community” [7], while ICE is moving back to pre-pandemic scales of operations despite the pandemic continuing as usual, putting officers, migrants, and the detained at risk [9]. Releasing the incarcerated involves risk of COVID-19 transmission to the public in that the incarcerated would likely be transferred from conditions of incomplete adherence to CDC guidelines. However, those who are already infected will be able to recover and prevent spread if in proper isolation outside of carceral facilities.

Next Steps

The success of this policy recommendation depends on it being followed until a COVID-19 vaccine is made widely available to the public, as well as to the incarcerated. Releasing non-violent offenders could reduce the incarcerated population by another 30%, allowing more inmates and detainees to maintain sufficient social distance.

Policy Memo: ​Policy Recommendations to Reinvigorate Recycling in Arizona

Changes in international recycling markets have significantly impacted recycling programs in the U.S.

Erin L. Murphy, Miranda L. Bernard, Levi Helm, Infynity Hill, Álex Tuñas-Corzón
Arizona State University, School of Life Sciences, Tempe, AZ

Executive Summary: In 2018, China enacted an import ban on twenty-four types of recyclables as part of its National Sword policy, upending recycling programs across the U.S. In Arizona, many municipalities have responded by significantly reducing or completely halting their programs, causing some cities to landfill their recyclables. We have reviewed state legislation and interviewed waste management coordinators to identify the key challenges and opportunities for recycling in Arizona. Informed by our interviews, we call on Arizona state legislators to (1) pass a resolution to appropriate funding for the recycling grant program, (2) amend this program to allow for joint applications, (3) repeal A.R.S. 9-500.38, ‘Prohibition on regulation of auxiliary containers; state preemption; definition’, (4) introduce a tax on products imported in single-use containers, and (5) provide incentives to companies using Arizona recyclables. These policies would reinvigorate recycling within the state, make Arizona’s waste management systems more cost-effective, and foster new local processing and manufacturing industries.

Read the full article here at the Journal of Science Policy and Governance

Header Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

Policy Memo: ​Stem the Tide of Predatory Stem Cell Clinics: State and FDA Coordination to Protect Patients

…the allure of profits from stem cell therapies have sparked a growing
industry of DTC clinics that advertise and provide non-FDA approved therapies

Griffin McCutcheon (1,2,3), John F. Malloy (1,4), Caitlyn A. Hall (1,5), Cassandra Barrett (1,6)

  1. Arizona Science Policy Network
  2. Arizona State University, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport, and Energy, Tempe AZ
  3. Arizona State University, School for Health and Biological Systems Engineering, Tempe AZ
  4. Arizona State University, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Tempe AZ
  5. Arizona State University, Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Tempe AZ
  6. University of Utah, Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, Salt Lake City, UT

Executive Summary: While stem cell therapies hold promise as regenerative treatments for combating a variety of conditions, the majority of these therapies remain in clinical trials without sufficient evidence for current clinical use. Predatory direct-to-consumer stem cell clinics (hereafter, DTC clinics), undeterred by a lack of clinical evidence, continue to offer unapproved stem cell injections to patients desperate to treat chronic conditions. These clinics can pose significant physical and financial harm to patients as their therapies are not without risks. Clinics rarely practice the requisite level of follow-up care required by clinical trials. To promote the safety and well-being of patients treated in stem cell clinics, we propose additional funding to support the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state-level health departments’ oversight of DTC clinics. The FDA will likely experience a substantial financial burden from enforcing regulations, given that there are hundreds of DTC clinics in the U.S. This number is expected to continue rising, as evidenced by a 114% increase in DTC clinics between 2015 and 2017 (P. S. Knoepfler 2019). We propose that the FDA appropriate additional funding to support state level government enforcement and address this impending shortcoming. Additionally, we suggest state legislatures enact registry laws to prevent DTC clinics from avoiding federal regulations and enable local governments to address low-risk offenders as needed. These laws would enable states to take a more proactive role in patient protections, while also allowing the FDA to more effectively target its resources towards high-risk DTC business. 

Read the full article here at the Journal of Science Policy and Governance

Graduating grad school in face of pandemic uncertainty

Caitlyn A. Hall, John F. Malloy, Griffin McCutcheon

While university administrations grapple with COVID and campus life, we’re grappling with how to successfully earn PhDs in the midst of this pandemic. Griffin helped his fiance move from their home in Arizona to Detroit, Michigan, where she will spend the next three years in an Emergency Medicine residency. He wonders how he can continue to support her from across the country. For now, he’s trying to compress a typical 5-year program into 4 years to join her in Detroit. He’s living with the fear/reality that, as a frontline emergency doctor, she will catch COVID-19 as a second wave is predicted to surge cases nationwide. And he won’t be there to help her from across the country. Beyond 2020, he wonders what the world will look like after grad school and how the pandemic will force his and his fiance’s decisions about their professional and personal lives.

Their situation is not unique. All graduate students are trying to balance completing a degree with personal obligations during this global pandemic. In normal times, we are supposed to become experts in our fields, while establishing a career and building a life that meets our passions, life goals, our partner’s ambitions, and our family’s needs. Obtaining a PhD is a slow and uncertain process that rarely acknowledges the agency or maturity of the student at the best of times. COVID-19 complicates an already difficult juggling act.

The prospect of a near graduation is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking, particularly due to a pandemic-stifled job market. We’ve been lucky that our time as graduate students has led to professional growth and networking. But our professional development doesn’t ensure stability in the face of a looming graduation date that could mean unemployment.

Plenty of uncertainty is ahead of us. The internet is swimming with announcements of hiring freezes, faculty layoffs, funding cuts that lead to abandoned research, and successful researchers leaving academia. These announcements are harbingers of long-term budget cuts within universities, as funding sources and endowments seem to dry up. Beyond academia, job prospects are bleak — employment in a world impacted by COVID-19 is going to be challenging. This leaves graduate students who are just beginning their careers with even more of an uncertain future. What will the job market hold when the dust settles? We’ve spent 4–8 years working in research and want to continue being successful personally and professionally. But do we have the necessary training and preparation to be successful outside of academia?

Graduate students are the backbone of academic research, and continue to be so during the time of COVID-19. However, a lack of dialogue and support for graduate students’ needs during this pandemic is unfortunately common. Universities that are failing to support their students’ basic health and wellness are witnessing strikes. As graduate students are getting married, having children and entering a hostile world in our mid-to late-20s (at the earliest), we should be more holistically supported and trained to better secure future success. We are more than just students, and this pandemic is highlighting the inequalities within the graduate system.

Griffin McCutcheon (he/his) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biological Design Program at Arizona State University. He designs genetic control systems and studies how they can be integrated with biological self-assembly for new methods of nanoparticle fabrication. He is the co-chair of AzSPN and enjoys mountain biking the desert trails, woodworking, and being a dog dad to his two pups.

John F. Malloy (he/him) is a Ph.D. candidate studying Astrobiology and Complex Systems Science at Arizona State University in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. He studies the fundamental nature and definition of life, both on Earth and on other planets, through exploring the evolution of life and life-like systems. He is a member of AzSPN and enjoys training for and competing in ultramarathons across the American Southwest.

Caitlyn A. Hall (she/they) is the co-founder of the Arizona Science Policy Network and a Ph.D. student in Environmental Engineering at Arizona State University. Her current research promotes natural hazard resilience by using microbes to reduce damage from earthquakes. She works with industry, community, and government leaders to develop best-fit technical, policy, and public health solutions to best-address a community’s challenges and values. For fun, Caitlyn spends her time rock climbing and trail running.

Policy Memo: Strategies to Curtail Dust-caused Illness in Arizona: A Policy Memorandum to the Arizona Congressional Delegation

Dust storm frequency in Arizona and the
southwestern US is increasing with associated
significant health risks…

Caitlyn A. Hall (1,5), Griffin McCutcheon (2,5), Evvan V. Morton (1,5), R. Kevin Tindell (3,5), Nicholas Weller (4,5)
  1. Arizona State University, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Tempe, AZ
  2. Arizona State University, Biological Design Program, Tempe, AZ
  3. Arizona State University, School for Engineering of Matter Transport and Energy, Tempe, AZ
  4. Arizona State University, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Tempe, AZ
  5. Arizona Science Policy Network, Tempe, AZ

Abstract: This policy memo discusses the growing concerns of dust storms within US southwestern deserts and, in particular, Arizona. Since the 1990s, the frequency of southwestern desert dust storms has dramatically increased. This increase has partially fueled a rise in respiratory health diseases, such as valley fever and severe lung tissue damage from dust particles. We propose two complementary policy solutions for near- and long-term benefit: (1) an assessment of potential vaccine pathways and appropriate federal research and development support and (2) an improved early warning system to alert residents to the health impacts of dust storms.

Read the full article here at the Journal of Science Policy and Governance 

Header Image by William Cowie from Pixabay