Florida prison employee tests positive for COVID-19

The employee works at the Marion Correctional Institution Work Camp near Ocala

(Denis Balibouse/Keystone via AP, Pool) (Denis Balibouse)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Central Florida prison employee has contracted the coronavirus, and three other staff members are self-isolating after coming into close contact with the infected worker, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the state Department of Corrections.

The employee, who works at the Marion Correctional Institution Work Camp near Ocala, tested positive for the virus on Sunday.

"The employee has been out of work for eight days and will not return to work until a full recovery is documented by a medical professional and DOH (Department of Health) and CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines are followed," corrections officials said in the statement.

The three other staff members have been placed on leave and will be required to self-isolate after coming in close contact with the infected employee. They will isolate “until they are symptom free,” officials said.

The department is working with local health officials to trace contacts the infected employee had with people to determine if other staff members or inmates at the facility need to be tested.

As of Tuesday morning, officials said all inmates and employees at the facility, which houses nearly 300 inmates, were asymptomatic.

The Department of Corrections this month has suspended face-to-face visits at prisons statewide and has stopped accepting new inmates as it tries to address the risk of the highly contagious coronavirus spreading among prisoners.

In a statement provided to The News Service of Florida on Monday afternoon, officials said there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus among inmates in the department’s 143 facilities across the state.

Officials also pointed to “enhanced cleaning measures” in prisons, including educating inmates about the need to wash their hands, avoid touching their faces and to notify staff members if someone is showing symptoms of a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

While officials are stressing to inmates the need for hand washing, the type and amount of soap an inmate can receive on a weekly basis varies by facility, housing and inmate classification, officials said.

State prisons are also restricting access to facilities, including for people who have traveled internationally or on cruises within the last 14 days, have signs of a respiratory infection or who have had contact with someone who has the virus.

The coronavirus has spread rapidly in Florida this month, with the Department of Health reporting 1,412 confirmed cases and 18 deaths of Florida residents as of Tuesday morning. A department website listed four cases in Marion County, where the prison employee tested positive.

About the Author:

Ana Ceballos is a state government and politics reporter for the News Service of Florida. She previously worked as the USA Today Network's Florida capitol reporter and the legislative relief reporter for the Associated Press.