By KARMA ALLEN, ABC News
(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — Florida officials are working to stem a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak among inmates as the Sunshine State quickly becomes the nation’s ground zero for the virus.
Since Friday afternoon, the number of Florida inmates testing positive for COVID-19 has jumped 20%. In total, at least 6,217 inmates had tested positive at correctional facilities across the state as of Monday afternoon, according to the most recent data released by the state’s Department of Corrections.
Separately, at least 46 inmates had died from COVID-related illnesses as of Monday, with a 28% in COVID-related deaths in just the last 72 hours, according to department data.
At least 22 Florida inmates have died from the virus so far this month, making July the deadliest month for inmates in the state since the pandemic began. The second-deadliest month was recorded in June, when nine inmates died.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, which operates 145 facilities statewide, including 50 correctional institutions, about 1,417 staff members have also tested positive for the virus.
Staff members who test positive for COVID-19 are not allowed to return to work until a “full recovery is documented by a medical professional,” state officials said.
Infected inmates are typically relocated until they recover, the department said.
“These inmates are placed in medical isolation under the care of their treating clinician,” says the department’s website. “Inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 receive the appropriate level of care based on their individual treatment needs.”
Once recovered, inmates are then “moved into appropriate housing based on their care and custody requirements,” the website says.
However, the state’s fast-rising numbers have raised concerns among prison reform advocates and inmates’ families about whether officials are doing enough to protect inmates from the virus.
States like Florida and Georgia, where officials were quick to reopen for business, have been hard-hit by the virus. Some 6,120 Florida residents have died from the virus while nearly 436,900 others have been infected, according to state data.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis faced harsh criticism after prematurely bragging in May about the state’s victory over the novel coronavirus.
“We succeeded and people just don’t want to recognize it,” he said outside the White House on May 20.
“You’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York,” he told reporters at the time.
Florida, like most states, has seen its infection rate soar since then.
Overall, more 16.5 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
America has become the worst-affected nation, with more than 4.3 million diagnosed cases and at least 148,298 deaths. Health experts say the infection rates could actually be much higher than reported.
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