Sheriff: Doctor who exposed inmates, staff to COVID-19 failed to follow proper protocol

The news comes after one doctor failed to follow proper protocol

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said he faults one jailhouse doctor, who failed to follow protocol, with spreading the novel coronavirus inside the largest detention facility in Jacksonville.

In a matter of days, the number of inmates testing positive for the virus has jumped from two to 20 to 178 at its peak over the weekend, records show. That’s not including the 19 jail staffers who tested positive, too. All of the cases are at the Pre-Trial Detention Facility, according to Williams.

More than 10 days ago, the first inmate tested positive at the facility. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said the positive test was a result of inmates and employees being exposed to a doctor, with Armor Correction Health Services, who tested positive for COVID-19.

The doctor had previously shown symptoms of the virus but failed to notify the jail personnel, according to Williams.

“We had done a great job up until, you know, we had one employee or contract employee not follow, you know, basic protocol and really started this whole chain,” said Williams. “They were, at some point, symptomatic and didn’t report that. It was one of the health care workers in the jail. They, obviously, have since been removed and are no longer an employee of the health care provider.

He added: “When you contact trace it back, that seems to be the only point where, you know, there was a lapse in following the protocol.”

The Sheriff’s Office had only tested 100 inmates for COVID-19 before the most recent exposure. Health officials have since tested 2,887 inmates in all three facilities.

It wasn’t until after two inmates tested positive that the Sheriff’s Office began testing every incoming inmate for the virus. It’s unclear how many were exposed to the coronavirus before the incident with the Armor Correctional Health Services doctor.

Over the weekend, protesters and families took aim at the Sheriff’s Office, demanding the release of inmates jailed over nonviolent crimes, inmates near the end of their sentences and immuno-compromised inmates more susceptible to becoming ill.

The sheriff said Monday 50 inmates who tested positive for the virus were released before the end of the weekend, but not out of precaution for COVID-19. The release brought the total number of inmates testing positive to 128.

Williams said one employee who tested positive went to a hospital, but so far, no inmates have been transported to a hospital for COVID-19-related illnesses.

According to Williams, inmates have been provided masks and patients testing negative for the virus are not being housed with inmates who have tested positive.

“The inmates who, you know, tested negative and keep them in an area. You’ve got, obviously, inmates who are asymptomatic but tested positive, and then we even have symptomatic inmates who, you know, separated again,” said Williams. “We’ve got the ability to do a lot of segregation.”

The recent outbreak is also impacting criminal cases for inmates.

New rules put in effect Monday will prevent inmates from joining their attorneys over video in court until July 13 if they are in the quarantined area of the jail.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.