State prisons report more COVID-19 flareups; death toll at nine

Florida is home to 145 state prisons and nine federal prisons, incarcerating 106,000 people combined. COVID-19 infections are spreading among inmates and staff. Nine inmates had died through Tuesday. Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

Two additional state prisons are reporting outbreaks of COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Corrections, which said it is ramping up supplies of protective equipment for staff, medical equipment for patients, and cloth masks for inmates in those facilities.

A broad round of coronavirus testing at Homestead Correctional Institution in south Dade County revealed that 73 of its approximately 700 female inmates have been infected with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Test results were pending for the rest on Tuesday. Two employees tested positive there. Thirty tests have come back negative.

Testing at Apalachee Correctional Institution, in Jackson County, revealed that 64 of its approximately 800 male inmates have been confirmed as infected, along with 11 employees, and 51 tests were pending.

Far more test results – 964 – were negative, according to the department.

The death toll in state prisons as of Tuesday was nine.

The department has released no details on inmate deaths, but state records and medical examiners’ reports say seven inmates died of COVID-19 at Blackwater River Correctional Facility, privately run in Santa Rosa County by The GEO Group, and two inmates died at Sumter Correctional Institution, in rural west-central Florida.

Inmate advocates renewed their appeals to Gov. Ron DeSantis to release select inmates to home confinement to slow the spread of the disease in the close, crowded quarters of the prisons.

Some states are releasing inmates due to the pandemic; others are not. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has released thousands of select federal inmates to home confinement around the country.

Liberty Correctional Institution in Liberty County leads the Florida prison system in reported infections, with 184 inmates who have tested positive and 307 test results pending. Seven staff there have been confirmed as infected.

Again, the number of negative results was far greater, at 1,622.

Previous hot spots continued to report new infections.

Tomoka Correctional Institution in Volusia County has reported that 132 inmates and 19 staff have tested positive. Eighty-seven have tested negative.

At Blackwater, where seven inmates died, another 57 inmates have been infected as well as 13 employees. Sixty tests were negative.

South Bay Correctional Facility, also run by GEO, has reported 61 inmates as confirmed infected; 14 test results were pending and 262 inmates tested negative. Forty-seven employees were infected.

Statewide, 723 of the system’s approximately 96,000 inmates have tested positive, with 2,000 test results pending; 3,449 tests were negative, and tens of thousands of inmates remain untested. Among staff, 204 of the approximately 24,000 employees have been infected.

More than 5,700 inmates were in medical quarantine or isolation Tuesday, having been exposed to infected people or showing symptoms of the disease.