Most COVID-19 infections in rural counties are often in state prisons

At Hamilton Correctional Institution, a state prison, 203 inmates and six prison employees were infected through Wednesday, representing two-thirds of all COVID-19 cases in that county. Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

As state prison authorities expand testing among inmates and employees, the extent of COVID-19 behind bars is becoming evident, even in prisons in rural counties where rates of infection in the general population are very low.

Hamilton Correctional Institution, near the state line in north Florida, is the latest of the rural state prisons to reveal a swath of COVID-19 cases, with 112 inmates and three employees recently testing positive for coronavirus, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

All of Hamilton County reports only 134 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health, which means all but 19 cases are associated with the prison. The Department of Health confirmed that it counts state inmate infections in its countywide and statewide reports.

Another 483 test results were pending at Hamilton CI, which incarcerates nearly 1,200 men, with 490 inmates in medical quarantine or medical isolation because they were exposed to infected people and/or are exhibiting symptoms of the disease. All but one of those had not been tested by midday Thursday.

In Liberty County, 191 of the 199 residents confirmed as infected are inmates at Liberty CI, where 172 more test results were pending. Another 1,731 tests came back negative. Eight employees are confirmed positive. Liberty County is in rural north Florida along the Apalachicola River.

Sumter CI, in rural central Florida, reported 102 inmates and 16 employees are infected, with 912 untested inmates in medical quarantine or isolation. Countywide, confirmed cases were at 246.

Union CI at Raiford, isolated between Lake City and Jacksonville, reported only nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates, but 1,021 tests were pending, about half the prison’s population.

In rural Jackson County, with 105 confirmed cases countywide, 83 were among inmates (72) and prison employees (11) at Apalachee CI.

Statewide, the Florida Department of Corrections reported Thursday that 943 inmates and 225 prison employees among its 145 prisons are confirmed positive with COVID-19. And there have been nine deaths in the system.

In addition, there are 2,665 test results pending statewide and 5,922 untested inmates in medical quarantine or medical isolation, having been exposed to infected people and/or exhibiting symptoms.