COVID-19 has become the latest threat to human life and the United States economy.
All official guidance, be it the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health departments, has led to canceling and reducing travel, not only to and from areas of concern, but across the nation.
Sporting events, rallies and large gatherings have seen a drop in participation, all in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which has caused a respiratory disease that can be fatal and has expanded globally and domestically, including in Florida.
However, there is one element that is being severely overlooked: Corrections.
The United States houses more prisoners per capita than any other country. The federal prison system is responsible for more than 175,000 of these offenders managed by over 30,000 employees.
If there was ever a place of congregated individuals with possible compromised immune systems, surely correctional institutions would be one of them.
The threat of the outbreak here is not due so much to those inside, but instead, to the constant contact with the public, indirectly.
Inmates in the prison system continue to get visitors from all affected areas of the country.
There are no medical screenings or parameters in place to ensure those exposed to COVID-19 are restricted from entering these visitation rooms and passing the virus, to not only the inmate population, but also to the staff.
(In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced cancellation of visitation at state prisons, although video visits are allowed.)
Prison employees, who become more susceptible to the disease, leave work every day and go home to their kids and families. Some even visit their parents in elderly facilities. Even while on duty many are escorting and monitoring inmates at local courts, hospitals and emergency rooms.
In some locations, such as the the federal Detention Center in Tallahassee, employees are responsible for continuing inmate bus transportation operations as normal.
This includes weekly trips to areas such as Tampa, Miami, and Atlanta, GA — all of which have been identified as areas of concerns.
That, coupled with the limitation of basic cleaning supplies such as hand sanitizer, soaps, or other potent cleaners, makes for the perfect storm for employees charged with serving the public and trying to provide for their families, while fearing that they’ll contract the virus.
Several requests have gone out from employees to administrators asking to limit these daily operations and lower the inherent hazards of the profession.
Several senators and congressional officials have asked prison officials for a plan to curtail these operations.
However, in a already understaffed agency, those concerns and requests have fallen on deaf ears.