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18,000 medical masks delivered to Duval County jail

Delivery comes after 178 inmates tested positive for COVID-19

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Health officials are preparing for another round of testing after an outbreak of the coronavirus at a Jacksonville detention facility.

Inmates who tested positive and those exposed to infected inmates will have to be tested again before being removed from isolation, according to the Florida Department of Health in Duval County.

Health officials completed testing 2,887 inmates Sunday and found 178 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility’s peak.

Rules set back in April will require thousands of items of protective gear for staff, infected inmates and the rest of the jail’s general population.  

The Department of Health in Duval County says it provided the jail 18,000 medical masks – in addition to an earlier delivery of 15,000 – for inmates and corrections officers Monday. 

An internal Department of Corrections memo from April instructs any employee who has direct contact with inmates suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 to wear full protective gear, which could include N95, masks, outerwear, eye protection, gloves and boot covers.

VIEW: Department of Corrections response to COVID-19 memo

It would require the Department of Corrections to have enough protective gear for screening nurses, personnel in charge of the release, transfer and intake of inmates, any officers escorting inmates to their housing and for officers who have to conduct cell searches on inmates who are confirmed or suspected to have the virus, according to the memo.

Sheriff Mike Williams says the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has provided masks to inmates, but it’s unclear when the agency started provided them.

The memo states housing personnel are not required to conduct cell searches on inmates suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 unless there’s an immediate safety or security concern.

Employees must wear gloves and a surgical mask even when dealing with infected inmates through the food flap in the cell.

Reduce the population

Tuesday, State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s office confirmed since March just over 500 people incarcerated for nonviolent low-level offenses were released to keep COVID-19 out of the jail system.

Assistant state attorneys were instructed to re-review cases in which people were facing a sentence of less than a year and consider whether inmates can be released on their own recognizance ahead of their hearings or be sentenced to the time they already served.

The office says at least some of the 50 COVID-19 positive inmates released over the weekend had their cases resolved, bail reduced or were released on their own recognizance as a part of the initiative.

Domino effect

In a phone interview, the sheriff told News4Jax contact tracing shows one jail doctor who was around inmates and staff after showing symptoms was the only known lapse in protocol.

The Department of Health in Duval County stated there was “no evidence that this was spreading prior to now.”

The doctor is no longer employed with medical contractor Armor Correctional Health Services, according to the sheriff.

Attempts to reach Armor Correctional Health Services have been unsuccessful.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.