PRESCOTT VALLEY, AZ — As rumblings of a COVID-19 outbreak at a Yavapai County academy for at-risk youth began to grow, emails show a county official warned a group of attorneys with ties to the facility, yet encouraged them not to share the information.
The Yavapai County Community Health Services made the outbreak at Mingus Mountain Academy public on May 4. The academy, which serves more than 100 at-risk girls who are often tied to the justice system, is located near Prescott Valley.
Emails obtained by ABC15 show prior to May 4th, Lourdes Todd, who has served as Chief of the Juvenile Division, sent emails to other attorneys and county employees to give notice of the apparent cases at the academy, but discouraged them from sharing the information since it had not yet been made public.
"I don't think it's inappropriate, I think it's outrageous," said attorney Jonna Hoffman, who was among the attorneys who received the email from Todd on May 1st.
Hoffman told ABC15 she is a private attorney who would often take on cases of parents or families linked to Mingus Mountain when called upon by the county.
According to the email sent from Todd's address on May 1 to a group of attorneys, including Hoffman, it indicates the Public Defender had been made aware of a report of more than 40 cases of infected youth at the academy. The email goes on to read "THIS INFORMATION HAS NOT BEEN MADE PUBLIC YET, SO I AM ASKING THAT YOU NOT SHARE IT.'
"This is a public defender's office," Hoffman said. "You're supposed to be looking out for the public. Bottom line."
The email goes on to read "...wanted to make you aware immediately so you can decide if you want to get tested." At the bottom of the email, there is information on an upcoming "testing blitz" in the county.
"This whole email was just like you're in a certain, privileged group," Hoffman said. "And you get to have protection. You go and make sure you're ok. And keep it secret. I don't know, it just really did not sit well with me."
Additional emails obtained in a public records request by ABC15 also show Public Defender Kennedy Klagge wrote an email to give a heads up to others on the same day as well.
On May 1st, Klagge sent an email to a group of people with Yavapai County email addresses, writing in part, "We will see a large spike in the reported numbers soon as over 40 young ladies as well as some staff at the Mingus Mountain Academy have tested positive. They have not yet made a public announcement but will soon. Please do not got to the public with this situation."
Prior to fulfilling ABC15's records request which revealed the email from Klagge, she declined comment Wednesday. She and Todd have not responded to multiple requests for comment throughout Wednesday pertaining to the substance of the emails.
Hoffman, who admits she isn't on the best terms with Todd, says she was troubled by what was sent her way.
"It's a health crisis and keeping it secret, how is that benefitting anyone?" she said.
On Thursday, a day after ABC15 first reported on the emails, the Vice-Chairman of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors weighed in. Vice-Chairman Randy Garrison told ABC15 he thought the public defender's office responded appropriately.
"I think it was a very complicated situation," Garrison said. "We were dealing with a very controlled circumstance and crowd. The situation was being dealt with in the quickest manner that it could and there was people that were affected by this situation that needed to have information so that they could protect themselves and their friends and family and self-isolate and to that extent those people were notified before the general public while this situation was continuing to be dealt with."
According to Yavapai County Community Health Services, as of Wednesday 84 of 141 girls at the academy have tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to 20 staff members.
Mingus Mountain released the following information to ABC15 following our reporting:
At Mingus Mountain Academy, we have continued to take steps to mitigate the risks of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The health and safety of our students and employees remains our top priority as we work diligently to address the cluster of cases on our campus. We are grateful that thus far no students or employees are showing any severe symptoms of the disease.
We continue to monitor the situation closely, and students and employees with positive test results are currently in isolation and receiving the best care possible. We wish them all a speedy recovery. We are very appreciative of the ongoing support of our county public health officials who are working hard to obtain and administer the tests for the virus. Mingus is still following all public health and CDC guidance for COVID-19 and ensuring all students and employees are maintaining social distancing protocols. We also continue to keep our referral partners informed and are committed to taking whatever steps necessary to prevent further spread of this virus at Mingus.
As of May 13, 2020, at 3 p.m. MT, the COVID-19 cases at Mingus Mountain Academy are the following:
- 56 positive (26 recovered)
- 44 negative
- 23 positive cases
- 47 negative cases
We are taking all necessary health and safety measures on campus, including:
- We are deep-cleaning and sanitizing the facility.
- We temporarily postponed admissions beginning April 24, 2020.
- We are following strict infection control practices per the guidance of the CDC and local health authorities, including isolating COVID-19 positive students and employees in separate dorms from those who are virus-free.
- Employee temperatures are measured at the beginning of each shift by a designated staff member who has been properly trained.
- All employees are required to self-monitor for any of the symptoms AND to check their temperatures prior to reporting to work. It is mandatory that employees notify their immediate supervisors for the presence of any respiratory symptoms and/or temperatures greater than 100.4F and remain at home until proper return to work conditions are met.
- We are routinely screening all residents and clients to monitor any changes related to COVID-19.
- We are providing additional education to team members and clients about hygiene, preventative measures, social distancing, and protocols.
- We have increased the time allotted to students to make phone calls to family to allow students to stay close to their loved ones while visitors aren’t permitted on campus.
- We have procured PPE from a variety of sources and partners including the County Health Department, Department of Child Services, the Administrative Office of the Courts, etc. Our partner health plans have stepped up to support us with PPE and medical supplies.