PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Numbers released over the weekend show a surge in coronavirus cases among state prisons. However, officials from Bay, Jackson and Walton Counties say that they have had zero jail inmates test positive for coronavirus.
Officials said they have strict policies for screening inmates upon arrival, and are only testing those who show symptoms. Reuters reported that in four state prisons, 96% of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic.
Cory Godwin, Walton County Sheriff’s Office director of jail operations, and Rick Anglin, Bay County Major over judicial services, said that they are implementing a rigorous symptom screening process for any person who enters the facility. This includes asking whether they were in contact with someone who may have been sick and quarantining people showing symptoms for 14 days.
Godwin added that they will not move towards mass releases for inmates. “Just because they have COVID, doesn’t mean they don’t pose a threat to public safety.”
Anglin said that they had several staff who showed symptoms that needed to get tested, but they all came back negative.
Chief Jammie Jeter from the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said that the Department of Health only requires testing on inmates and personnel who exhibit symptoms.
A prison is a federally- or state-run facility where people go upon sentencing while a jail is a county- or privately-run facility where people go to await trial.
Godwin said he thinks the prisons are being affected more harshly because of the cross transportation of inmates into prisons and large number of inmates accommodated in prisons compared to the county jails.
Anglin said that the Bay County Jail began putting protocols in place since mid-February.
Officials from the Bay, Jackson and Walton County jails said that they are all taking extra safety and sanitary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. This includes increased cleaning and virtual meetings with attorneys, which increases access and communication. Although, officials said it is impossible to practice social distancing.
“What presents itself as a crisis is really an opportunity to do things we should’ve been doing all along,” Godwin said.