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COVID-19 Cases Increase at Women’s Prison in Florida

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 at a Florida women’s prison totaled 73 on Monday, a jump from the previous day’s total of two.

Seventy percent of tests administered at Homestead Correctional Institution so far have come back positive and 616 tests are pending results. The spike in confirmed cases comes after weeks of the facility’s shuffling of women from dorm to dorm in an attempt to contain the coronavirus.

Before tests were recently administered, women at Homestead reported common symptoms of COVID-19, including continuous coughing and the loss of taste and smell. During this time, one inmate with a high fever was reportedly sent back to her dorm with three Tylenol pills.

When two inmates first tested positive, the prison began moving people around, which is an unusual practice, according to inmate advocate Debra Bennett.

“I feel like Homestead was trying to get a hold of the situation. They were trying to guess at who may have been affected. It’s just not possible,” Bennett said.

The uptick in cases at Homestead is not an isolated incident, as prisons across the state are experiencing outbreaks. Eight prisons have become hot spots, accounting for 96% of the 723 positive cases in the state’s prison population.

Responding to the outbreak, some Florida prisons are expanding testing and implementing additional safety measures. Yesterday, the number of tests performed on inmates totaled 6,283, out of which 5,500 were done in the past week. Prison workers at Homestead are now allowed to wear cloth masks or surgical masks provided by the facility. The prison currently has 42,500 surgical masks. Cloth masks, however, may be insufficient as they only prevent people from spreading the virus but not from contracting it.

Despite overall improvements on testing, some women’s prisons are conducting limited tests. At Gadsden Correctional Facility, a privately run prison, nine inmates have tested positive, a number that is expected to rise after test results from Monday are returned. At Florida Women’s Reception Center and Hernando Correctional Institution, two facilities with few cases, only one and two tests have been done, respectively.

The rapid spread of the virus through prisons is scaring inmates. One woman at Homestead told her sister that she had “never been so scared.”

“I’ve been feeling bad before all this started happening,” the woman told her sister. “I love you, I’m handling it. I cried about it, now I’m must accepting it.”

Sources: Miami Herald 05/11/2020; Tampa Bay Times 05/12/2020

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