Florida prisons chief offers encouragement amid COVID-19 pandemic

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a lengthy message Tuesday to inmates and offenders, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch called a reduction in COVID-19 cases “encouraging” -- but also acknowledged that the pandemic remains a threat.

Inch said in the memo that he hopes to “never see another two months like this past July and August,” when cases spiked in the corrections system before declining in September.

He said the improvement contributed to his decision to allow visitation to resume at prisons after being suspended for months to try to prevent the spread of the disease.

“Am I trying to say the pandemic is over and paint you a rosy picture? No, quite the opposite,” Inch wrote. “We are still in a serious pandemic, and we cannot let down our guard. The risk is still real. The potential for a second outbreak and serious consequences for those with underlying medical conditions remain. But if we can manage infection rates more in line with September, until the arrival of a successful vaccine, I consider that a realistic expectation and satisfactory. If we see indications of rising infection rates like July, we will have to again suspend visitation and volunteer programs.” 

The message, titled “Find the Good,” thanked the inmates and offenders for taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus and also urged them to get flu shots.

“I am optimistic that we can all show the discipline and patience necessary to fight and ride out this pandemic, the worst pandemic in 100 years,” Inch wrote. “We must follow our established pandemic control procedures and new modified visitation and volunteer procedures. On balance, you have cooperated very well with our joint efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus. One added effort you can do soon is accept the flu vaccine, when offered.”

As of a Tuesday count, 16,480 inmates and 3,300 corrections workers had tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started. Also, 141 inmate deaths have been linked to the virus.