20 inmates at Duval County jail test positive for COVID-19

Sheriff Mike Williams says these are first reported cases of coronavirus at the jail

Sheriff Mike Williams says these are first reported cases of coronavirus at the jail.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At least 20 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Duval County jail, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office announced Sunday. On Monday, News4Jax learned at least 17 employees are in self-quarantine after they were exposed to the virus at the jail.

The inmates are the first reported cases of coronavirus at the jail, Sheriff Mike Williams said in a statement.

Two of the inmates tested positive Friday.

That same day, other inmates and employees were exposed to a contract employee who also tested positive for COVID-19.

The inmates exposed to both the inmates who tested positive and the contract employee were quarantined or isolated -- and all were tested, Williams said.

JSO learned Sunday that 18 more inmates among those exposed had tested positive.

Williams said most of the inmates who tested positive are asymptomatic and were tested as a precaution because of their exposure.

But now, families with loved ones in the jail fear there might be more cases that aren’t being reported.

Sylvia Jones, whose son is an inmate, said she doesn’t understand why more precautions weren’t taken sooner.

“You have sons and daughters in there unprotected as you all are going in and out,” Jones said. “I don’t understand it.”

Jones’ son was moved from a three-man cell to a two-person cell Friday, said Jones, adding that she believes her son knows who the contracted employee is.

“My son saw the doctor and that’s why they told him they were putting everybody in quarantine that saw the doctor,” Jones said. “He had seen him -- Friday would’ve been 12 days since (he’d) seen the doctor. So, what other contracted employer would (it) have been?”

As of Sunday morning, when Jones last spoke to her son, he had not been tested.

Now, Jones said, she wonders if there are more cases -- and she’s questioning whether the jail took the virus seriously.

“(My son) said now all the officers in there, everybody in there now is wearing a mask, when before, nobody was wearing one,” Jones said. “At this point, I don’t even know how to feel. I’m hurt and upset and concerned.”

The worst reported and confirmed symptoms have been a fever and body aches, Williams said.

The jail’s contracted health provider is treating the symptoms and closely monitoring all inmates.

Everyone in the jail will be tested by the Florida Department of Health, Williams said, and all inmate movement in all JSO DOH facilities will be kept to a minimum.

Employees who were exposed to those who have tested positive are being notified and will be tested or self-monitor based on their exposure level, the sheriff said. News4Jax learned Monday morning that 17 employees are in self-quarantine.

FDOH also will help with contact tracing.

Up to now, all Department of Corrections facilities have increased sanitation efforts and all persons who enter a DOC facility are screened for COVID-19 symptoms. But moving forward, all newly arrested inmates will be tested upon entry to the Duval County jail or will be placed in quarantine for 14 days if they refuse to be tested, Williams said.

“We are working closely with the FDOH in response to the positive tests and have a good plan moving forward,” Williams said in the statement.

A local civil rights activist said Sunday night in a written statement that city officials must act more aggressively to address the issue of COVID-19 at area jails.

“If city officials don’t move quickly to radically and aggressively reduce jail populations, it may undermine our ability to control (coronavirus) locally,” said Ben Frazier, of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville. “We are very concerned because the experts say all of our local jails in north Florida are notorious amplifiers of corona and other infectious diseases.

“This new information means the sheriff and the state attorney must move even faster to immediately reduce the jail population during the crisis.”

As for how to reduce the jail population, Frazier said courts in the fourth judicial circuit should release anyone in jail on minor charges:

  • Who does not present a greater danger to themselves or others than the virus.
  • Who has fewer than 90 days left to serve.
  • And those charged with minor offenses who have not been released because they don’t have the money to post bond.

Probation offices should stop sending people to jail for “technical violations,” such as failing to pay a fine, loss of employment or a missed curfew, Frazier said.

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