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Transparency Urged as More FL Prison Workers Test Positive for COVID-19

The Florida Department of Corrections says its management of COVID-19 is closely aligned with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay)
The Florida Department of Corrections says its management of COVID-19 is closely aligned with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay)
April 1, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida's prison system has confirmed 12 workers testing positive for COVID-19, and some prison-rights groups say that alone should prompt testing of the prison population.

The Florida Department of Corrections provides daily testing updates, and as of Tuesday, no one serving a prison sentence had tested positive, although a department spokesperson confirmed that they only test those experiencing symptoms, per county health department guidelines.

Denise Rock, executive director of the Florida Cares Charity Corp., which advocates on behalf of people behind bars and their families, said the department should be more transparent.

"I think what society would like to see," she said, "would be something more in line with the Florida Department of Health, which is stating how many people tested positive, how many people tested negative, so that we know how many people are tested altogether."

In a statement on the department's website, employees testing positive for the virus are not allowed to work until cleared by a medical professional. If a person serving a prison sentence shows symptoms, they'll be placed in medical isolation, pending testing.

Rock said it's important that prison officials don't treat medical isolation as punitive. She pointed out that when someone self-isolates in their home, they still have access to basic essentials such as phones and internet, to stay connected with loved ones.

"They should, most importantly, still have access to the telephone, so that they can call home and let their family know that this has happened to them, for one," she said. "That would ease concerns, with both the person who's incarcerated and the family."

Rock praised the corrections department for doing what it can to reduce spread of the virus, including staggered meal times. She said she thinks more could be done, such as coming up with a better plan for holding individuals in sally ports, or secured enclosures, when transferring individuals to different parts of a jail or prison.

The DOC website for COVID-19 updates is online at dc.state.fl.us.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL