Worker at Florida juvenile facility tests positive for COVID-19

Broward Youth Treatment Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida. (WPLG)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A worker at a South Florida juvenile-justice facility has tested positive for COVID-19, while the number of cases statewide has reached 4,950, officials announced Sunday.

The employee of the Broward Youth Treatment Center was confirmed Friday as having the highly contagious disease. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice did not specify the employee’s job duties or details such as the employee’s age or gender.

A news release from the department said the employee has been off work for five days and will not return “until a full recovery is documented by a medical professional. DJJ is working closely with the local county health department to determine next steps for screening staff and the youth at the program.”

The announcement came a short time before the Florida Department of Health on Sunday morning updated figures showing that 4,246 cases had been confirmed statewide of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. By Sunday evening, according to the state Department of Health, the number of coronavirus cases reported in Florida had risen to 4,950. The disease has killed 60 people in Florida.

Broward County, the site of the juvenile facility where the worker tested positive, had 992 cases as of Sunday evening, second only to neighboring Miami-Dade County, which had 1,472 cases, according to the Department of Health.

The announcement of the positive case at the juvenile facility also came after the Florida Department of Corrections said late Friday that seven employees at prisons and corrections offices throughout the state had confirmed cases of COVID-19. Those employees work at Century Correctional Institution in Escambia County; Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami-Dade County; Florida Women’s Reception Center and Marion Correctional Institution, both in Marion County; Zephyrhills Correctional Institution in Pasco County; and community corrections regional offices in Union County and Palm Beach County.

The Broward Youth Treatment Center has 27 youths in its program, and parents and guardians have been notified about the employee testing positive, the Department of Juvenile Justice said. All of the youths and other staff members were asymptomatic as of Sunday morning, and additional teens are not being admitted to the program.

The Pembroke Pines facility, in part, provides substance-abuse and mental-health treatment services to boys ages 13 to 18. The facility is operated by a contractor, Youth Opportunity, which also runs other juvenile-justice facilities in the state, according to information on the Youth Opportunity website.

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Simone Marstiller issued an emergency order March 19 that suspended all visitation at juvenile facilities until at least April 15. At the time, the department said it did not have any known or suspected cases of COVID-19.

“This is a measure we do not take lightly, but we find it necessary to restrict the movement of individuals into our facilities to prioritize the health of youth in our custody, in addition to our agency and contracted provider staff,” Marstiller said in statement after issuing the emergency order. “We will work diligently to maintain regular communication between youth and their families.”

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