THE GLADES, Fla. — More than 1,200 inmates at the South Bay Correctional Facility in the Glades are under medical quarantine after a sharp spike in coronavirus cases.
Dozens of inmates and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said.
The correctional facility has nearly 1,950 prisoners, and WPTV has learned from the Florida Department of Corrections that 1,250 of those inmates are now in medical quarantine. Fourteen prisoners have tested positive for the coronavirus.
"A lot of residents work at that correctional facility. They leave there and they go home to their families to their loved ones," said Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who called the numbers disturbing.
The DOC also said 36 staff members at South Bay tested positive for COVID-19, the highest number in any facility in the state.
On Wednesday, McKinlay called for a Department of Health strike team to be sent in.
"Try to trace where the source of the infection, test the other inmates and other personnel, put protocols in place to make sure the virus doesn't spread," said McKinlay.
McKinlay said later Friday that an inspection showed proper protocol is in place and being followed. Also, personal protective equipment is available and being used at the facility.
McKinlay said she asked if health officials were going to trace the source but was told with that many people infected and “community spread” obviously occurring, it was too late to trace.
She said she was disappointed they cannot trace the source but is happy to hear PPE is being used and protocols are in place.
South Bay Mayor Joe Kyles said he heard rumors of the outbreak, but only learned the facts after speaking with the assistant warden.
"He expressed to me that they are wearing masks and gloves to make sure everyone is safe. Also, they're doing a temperature check as well," said Kyles.
South Bay is a private state prison run by the GEO Group, which us based in Boca Raton.
McKinlay sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday saying she's concerned "the outbreak is beyond the capacity of the GEO Group to manage."
"When you have an area of such high concentration, you're starting to see the numbers in the Glades communities creep up a little bit," said McKinlay.
A spokesperson for the GEO Group released this statement to WPTV:
"As of April 30th, thirty-six employees at the South Bay Correctional & Rehabilitation Facility have tested positive for COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Thirty-sixof the employees who tested positive are currently at home on self-quarantine with pay, while one of the employees has fully recovered and returned to work after meeting return-to-work guidelines for essential workers issued by the CDC.
Consistent with protocol, we are working with the State Health Department to identify any other staff members who may have had contact with the employees who tested positive and will issue self-quarantine guidance to those employees if necessary. At this time, any inmates who may have had exposure to the employees who tested positive will be placed in medical isolation, consistent with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to allow for medical staff to monitor their health and wellbeing.
We have issued a statement on our website on the steps we have taken at our facilities to address the risk of COVID-19 (see www.geogroup.com/COVID19). The health and safety of all those in our care and our employees is our utmost priority and we will continue to coordinate closely with the State of Florida and the local health department to ensure their health and safety."