Duval County jail sees jump in new COVID-19 cases

In-person jury trials in Putnam, St. Johns, and Volusia counties have been suspended; delays in Duval

A surge in COVID-19 cases among inmates in Duval County is delaying some court proceedings.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Monday there are now more than 100 COVID-19 cases in Duval County correctional facilities and thousands more inmates have been placed in quarantine as the agency works to get the outbreak under control.

The surge in new cases follows a trend across the country and in Jacksonville as the coronavirus Delta variant takes hold.

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Further south, a recent increase in cases has caused in-person jury trials in Putnam, St. Johns, and Volusia counties to be suspended.

A Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spokesman told News4Jax that there are 103 confirmed cases in all department of corrections facilities and several dorms have been placed on a “precautionary status” which has impacted 2,389 inmates.

Chad Neilsen, UF Health Director of Infection Prevention, said it would be no surprise to see the current jail numbers increase.

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“It’s going to spread like wildfire. We know that the Delta variant is more contagious so anytime you put people in close proximity together who are not vaccinated you’re going to see the virus move very swiftly through that population,” Neilsen said.

JSO noted that the current number of cases is still below what was seen at the peak of the outbreak in July 2020. Back then, there were 449 positive cases.

Sheriff Mike Williams said there has been no change in the CDC guidelines being followed in correctional housing facilities.

“Furthermore, our staff continues the COVID-19 mitigation protocols which includes testing inmates upon admission and anytime they exhibit symptoms,” Williams wrote in a statement. “Inmates that are confirmed COVID-19 positive are removed from the general inmate population and quarantined to prevent further spread. We have an onsite medical provider that monitors our inmate population, however, inmates requiring hospital care due to COVID-19 or any other health condition are transported to local area hospitals. All areas of our facilities are regularly cleaned and disinfected in accordance with CDC guidance and all persons within the facilities are required to wear masks, inmates included.”

Fourth Circuit Chief Judge Mark Mahon told News4Jax on Monday the outbreak has also caused a delay in some criminal court proceedings.

“The court system — the judges the state attorney want to be available to have a case ready to go and be able to have the resources to try the case if that individual wants a trial. It’s just, the fact of the matter is, with so much uncertainty in the community sometimes it is very difficult to accomplish,” Mahon said.

Starting Monday, Fourth Circuit felony cases involving in-custody defendants who are in precautionary quarantine will not be brought to the courthouse for intervening court dates. Inmates who do not display symptoms will be rapid tested prior to final pre-trial.

The Seventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, which covers Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties, said the suspension of in-person jury trials comes after review of relevant public health metrics associated with COVID19 for the week ending July 8, 2021.

“The Court will continue to monitor the situation and announce future changes to its operational plan if/when necessary,” the Seventh Circuit said in a news release.

In-person jury trials in Flagler County will proceed as scheduled.

Much like the rest of the country, Jacksonville’s justice system has struggled to function during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, courtrooms closed, the Florida Supreme Court suspended jury trials and inmates’ constitutional rights to demand a speedy trial within five months was halted.

Then, in June, COVID-19 became a problem inside the Duval County Pre-Trial Detention Facility.

Over a four-month span, 240 corrections officers working at Jacksonville’s pre-trial detention facility tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 434 inmates were found to be infected, records obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM show.

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.