Skip navigation

Doctor at Florida Detention Center Spread COVID-19 to Prisoners

The doctor went to work on June 19, 2020. Within days, the number of detainees testing positive for coronavirus jumped from two to 20 to 178. Another 19 staffers also tested positive.

“We had done a great job up until, you know, we had one employee or contract employee not follow, you know, basic protocol and started this whole chain,” Williams said. “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.”

The Sheriff’s Office issued a statement that said it was a doctor who exposed detainees and staff to COVID-19. “When you contact trace it back, that seems to be the only point where, you know, there was a lapse in following the protocol.”

Prior to that exposure, the Sheriff’s Office had only tested 100 detainees. Health officials tested 2,887 detainees in all three Jacksonville jails since the exposure. Once the first two detainees tested positive, every detainee entering the jail was tested.

The outbreak of COVID-19 caused a push to release detainees and prisoners who were near the end of their sentence or were immuno-compromised. As of June 29, 2020, the Sheriff’s Office had released 128 detainees who had tested positive. Detainees were being segregated as to whether they were negative, positive but asymptomatic, or positive with symptoms. Masks were issued to all detainees. One staffer who tested positive was sent to a hospital, but as of the June report no detainees had been sent to a hospital for COVID-19 related illness.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson said a March 2020 memo issued to reduce the jail population by her office would remain in effect. On June 26, 2020, there were 2,668 people in Duval County Jails.

“Given how the virus has now impacted the Duval County jail and our community, we are working with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Regional Conflict Counsel, and private defense bar to expand our previous collective efforts,” said a statement issued by Nelson’s office. “Prosecutors are re-reviewing all misdemeanor and certain nonviolent felony cases to determine if expedited resolution is feasible, or alternatively, whether a release on recognizance is appropriate. These decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis with public health and safety paramount to these decisions.”