TAMPA BAY, Fla — COVID-19 is spreading throughout jails in the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s not a place you want to get sick,” said Eric George.
On Jan. 1, Eric George received messages from a friend who’s an inmate at the Polk County Jail, describing just how bad a COVID-19 outbreak has gotten at the facility.
“The jail’s neglect has caused an outbreak that is quickly spiraling out of control. She said they are putting lives at serious risk,” George said.
In the message, his friend who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, explains 14 out of 56 people in the trustee dorm, where she’s placed, tested positive for COVID-19.
She said those infected with the virus were isolated, but those trustees who had been exposed were not placed under quarantine. Trustees perform many daily tasks including laundry, cleaning, and cooking for inmates.
According to the CDC COVID-19 Guidance for Correctional Facilities“Incarcerated/detained persons who are close contacts of someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, should be placed under quarantine for 14 days.”
“I don’t see how they haven’t all had it. It's very close quarters. And even if you’re not close, in the sense of close proximity, you’re using the same facilities, you're using the same phones,” George said.
ABC Action News reached out to the Polk County Sheriff's office regarding their COVID protocols. In a statement they said:
“All Polk County Jail inmates coming in are screened and evaluated using the CDC’s screening tool—each inmate is checked medically (temperature, history, questions about symptoms, etc.). Masks are immediately provided and are available to all inmates in jail. We have a rolling quarantine for all new inmates booked into the jail to keep them separate (in groups) for 14 days (+/-) from the general population until we have enough time to observe any symptoms that might be attributable to COVID-19. No inmate is introduced into general population without medical screening. Any inmate showing symptoms is medically checked and tested if warranted. If there are positive tests, they are medically quarantined. We have had no serious illnesses or hospitalizations because of the recent (December) Omicron variant. Anyone suggesting that we do not have excellent protocols or practices are incorrect.”
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, there are currently 93 Polk County inmates that have COVID-19, with a jail population of 3,052.
The spike in positive cases is not unique to Polk County Jail. We did some digging and found that 101 inmates currently have COVID-19 in Hillsborough County Jail, out of a total of 2,736 inmates, and in Pinellas County, there are 74 cases out of a population of 2,736.
“I would recommend releasing anyone from jail who does not need to be in jail if they are not a threat to public safety,” said Dr. Anne Spaulding, Emory University Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine.
Dr. Spaulding said “decarcerating,” is one way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in detention centers. Most importantly she said we could flatten the curve among inmates with a few additional measures.
“Isolate those who are infected, to quarantine those who are exposed and to be able to protect individuals from transmitting and acquiring infection by two measures especially, vaccinating and masking,” Spaulding said.