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Prison coronavirus cases continue to climb

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida prison officials said Tuesday that 11 additional corrections workers in the state have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The latest count brings the total number of positive cases among workers in the state prison system to 54, the Florida Department of Corrections announced in a news release Tuesday.

The employees who have tested positive for the highly contagious disease work at 24 prisons and three probation offices across the state, officials said. In addition to the prison workers, 35 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the release.

All but two of the inmates are housed at Blackwater River Correctional Facility, a Santa Rosa County prison operated by The Geo Group Inc. The other two inmates are housed at Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell. The Geo Group has refused to answer questions about Blackwater’s 41 COVID-19 cases, which include eight workers. Instead, the Boca Raton-based company has referred questions to the Department of Management Services, the state agency that oversees private prison contracts. DMS officials have not responded to The News Service of Florida’s questions about Blackwater’s situation since April 9, when the number of cases within the inmate population soared to 30.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has not revealed the number of inmates who have been tested for COVID-19 or who have been placed in medical isolation after being exposed to the virus.

Florida has the third-largest prison system in the nation, with roughly 94,000 inmates, 145 facilities and 23,000 employees.