Some FL prisons will reopen to visitation; inmate COVID-19 death toll reaches 127

The Florida Senate voted Wednesday to shut down one state prison. Credit: Iuoman/Getty Images

Some of the 86,000+ state inmates in Florida who have been denied visitation for more than six months to mitigate the spread of coronavirus may see friends and family again starting Oct. 2.

But not all of the 57 major, public, and private prisons are considered “appropriate” for resumption of visitation, says Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, who contracted and recovered from COVID-19.

That is because COVID continues to flare up, with 127 fatalities reported since April 9 and 16,207 inmates infected at some point during the pandemic, as of Thursday.

In addition, nearly 3,100 prison staff have been diagnosed with COVID at some point and three of them died. The prisons incarcerated 86,195 men, women, and teenagers as of the department’s ‘s July 31 census.

In mid-August, the department extended its no-visitation policy statewide after reporting outbreaks at Mayo Annex Correctional Institution (CI), Suwanee CI, Baker CI, Century CI, Taylor CI, Santa Rosa CI, and Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala.

It changed course on Sept. 11.

“Starting Oct. 2, we will be resuming visitation at institutions where it is safe and appropriate to do so,” Inch announced then. “Visitation will look much different than before.”

As of Thursday, two weeks later, the department had not disclosed which prisons will be eligible for visitation, the criteria for deciding that, nor how visitation practices will be modified as the pandemic continues.

The Florida Department of Health, which tracks fatalities in state prisons, said the most deaths have occurred at the corrections department’s Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler, incarcerating nearly 2,000 men. There, 18 inmates and one employee have died of COVID-19.

South Florida Reception Center in Doral reports 17 inmates deaths and Dade Correctional Institution reports 10, according to the Department of Health. Twenty-five other prisons report fewer than 10 fatalities.

COVID-19 is most widespread at Columbia Correctional Institution, with 1,369 of its 2,255 male inmates having become infected at some point and nine fatalities, according to both agencies. Next is Lowell Correctional Institution, with 1,005 infections among its 2,288 male inmates, including two who died.

Five of the prisons have reported no positive tests among inmates and no deaths, although some have seen employees test positive for the disease.

Meanwhile, more than 64,000 inmates have tested negative, with 224 tests pending, and nearly 13,000 in medical isolation or quarantine after being exposed to an infected person or exhibiting COVID symptoms, as of corrections department reports through Thursday.