TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday the state has not had a “huge spread” of COVID-19 in the prison system, even as corrections officials reported 120 more cases among inmates and a ninth prison with an outbreak.
Corrections officials have reported large clusters of COVID-19 cases among inmates in nine facilities across various parts of the state. Hamilton Correctional Institution became the latest prison to record an outbreak on Wednesday, with 112 confirmed cases, officials reported.
As of Wednesday morning, 843 inmates and 208 corrections workers had tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Nine inmates, whose ages ranged from 65 and 84, have died from complications of COVID-19, according to medical examiner’s reports.
Other prisons with outbreaks include Liberty Correctional Institution, with 191 inmate cases; Tomoka Correctional Institution, with 132 inmate cases; Sumter Correctional Institution, with 101 inmate cases; Homestead Correctional Institution, with 80 inmate cases; and Apalachee Correctional Facility, with 64 inmate cases, department numbers show.
DeSantis, who is trying to slowly reopen the state’s economy, told reporters on Wednesday that people should not conflate what is going in prisons with how the virus is behaving in the broader community.
“It’s not that (the prison system) doesn’t matter, but that’s obviously a discrete issue that is not really indicative of a community outbreak,” DeSantis said.
The governor said the Department of Corrections will continue to expand testing for inmates.
As of Wednesday, corrections and health officials had conducted 6,392 tests for inmates, an increase of more than 5,500 tests in one week.
“You will continue to see some cases coming out of prisons because the testing is ramping up,” DeSantis said.
He also said infections in the prison system have not had a large effect on hospitals.
“You have not seen a huge amount of hospital resources that have had to be expended. There have been some (inmates) on ventilators now, but relatively few,” he said.
DeSantis also said the number of positive COVID-19 cases among prison workers has not been as high as he would have thought.
“In prisons, it has been very small. One or two here, one or two there. I was expecting to see a lot of staff members testing positive, but you just haven’t seen it, and that is something that is very, very important,” he said.