UPDATE: Graceville corrections officer dies after COVID-19 complications

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UPDATE:

GRACEVILLE, Fla. (WMBB) — A correctional officer lost his battle to COVID-19 last week. The 65-year-old sergeant is the first Florida Correctional Officer to die of the virus.

Last week, Robert “Wayne” Rogers and his wife passed away within an hour of each other after suffering complications from the coronavirus.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Rogers had worked for the FDC for nearly 30 years and was highly respected by his fellow officers.

Rogers’ daughter, Tiffany Davis, said Rogers tried to retire at 25 years but missed his job so much, he came out of retirement after two months.

“I remember the day he got promoted to sergeant,” Davis said. “We actually have a picture of it. He was so excited the day he got promoted to sergeant.”

Davis said she believes her dad contracted the virus from the Graceville work camp and then brought it home to her mother.

Rogers and his wife first went to the emergency room about two weeks ago when both of them began to not feel well. Davis said her parents were unsure of whether or not they had been tested for the coronavirus during their first visit to the emergency room.

“My dad had said something about that they had swabbed his nose for something but that they didn’t test my mom because they thought that if one of them was negative, then the other one was negative,” Davis said. “He was unsure about the results and even if it was a COVID test.”

Davis said after their first visit to the emergency room they went to their doctor where they were given antibiotics, steroids and an inhaler. However, it wasn’t enough.

Three days after seeing their doctor, Rogers and his wife went to the emergency room for a second time.

“I had called to check on my parents and my dad had lost his vision and was short of breath,” Davis said. “He was really hoarse and was having chest pain radiating down his left arm.”

Davis said her parents went back to the ER on the 19th and were placed in ICU and were eventually put on life support.

“COVID doesn’t care who you are and it’s strange how it chooses one person to just ravage and then the next person you know they might test positive and not have any symptoms,” Davis said.

As of Tuesday, the Florida Department of Corrections reports for Jackson Correctional Institute no positive coronavirus tests among inmates and 21 positive tests among staff. However, Jackson C-I has only tested 11 inmates while their capacity is over 1,300.

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EARLIER VERSION
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) — The first Florida correctional officer to die after contracting the coronavirus was a 65-year-old sergeant who worked for the state Department of Corrections for three decades.

Robert Rogers, who was assigned to the Graceville Work Camp in Jackson County, died Friday, the Department of Corrections announced Monday night. His wife, Lauri Wood Rogers, also died from complications of COVID-19, a deadly respiratory illness that has stalked state corrections workers, their families and inmates.

Jim Baiardi, who leads the state corrections chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, said Rogers served the department with dignity and honor and that he was “well-liked and highly respected by his fellow officers.” 

“Being a correctional officer has always been a dangerous job, but working in a dense prison environment during COVID-19 has made correctional officers’ jobs twice as dangerous, which is why they need more support and better safety equipment from the Department of Corrections to keep them safe,” Baiardi said in a statement Tuesday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

After the union shared a photo of the couple on Facebook, an outpouring of condolences from prison workers across the state ensued.

Rogers’ death came at a particularly dire time for Florida’s prison system, as corrections and health officials grapple with a massive surge of COVID-19 cases among corrections workers and inmates.

The Florida Department of Corrections, which includes about 24,000 employees and 87,700 prisoners, reported on Tuesday that 1,810 workers and 9,180 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 and that 54 inmates had died after contracting the virus.

The numbers have skyrocketed over the past month. On July 3, for example, corrections officials reported that 533 workers and 2,089 inmates had tested positive for the virus and that 24 inmates had died.

Graceville Work Camp is tied to Jackson Correctional Institution, which has reported 21 infected workers.

Rogers is the only department worker known to have died from the virus, corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday. 

Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, who is battling COVID-19, said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” to learn about Rogers’ death.

“No amount of preparedness can alleviate the feelings that come with the news of losing a colleague,” Inch said in a statement issued Monday night. “Sergeant Rogers committed his life to selfless service to the state of Florida as a corrections professional, and we are deeply saddened by his passing.”

Inch and one of his top lieutenants, Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon, tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday after visiting Columbia Correctional Institution and attending a Florida Sheriffs Association conference where three other attendees also have since tested positive for the virus. 

Inch and Dixon are self-isolating, and department employees who came in close contact with them in recent days were notified about their potential exposure to the virus, Glady said. 

As corrections workers face an increasing risk of exposure in prisons, union officials have called for hazard pay for officers.

Many employees have been asked to work longer hours at prison with COVID-19 cases. In early July, corrections officials launched emergency plans at two prisons — Dade Correctional Institution and Jefferson Correctional Institution — to address significant staffing shortages caused by the pandemic. The emergency plans required workers to work 12-hour shifts for up to six days a week to ensure adequate staffing levels were maintained.

“Corrections officers, statewide and nationally, are testing positive for COVID-19 and unknowingly bringing danger into their homes. The danger of the coronavirus is something once again never contemplated and certainly not addressed in any collective bargaining agreement or state law,” Baiardi wrote Thursday in a letter to Inch.

In May, when 167 corrections workers had tested positive for COVID-19, Baiardi said workers were sleeping in cars because they were afraid that if they slept at home they would get their wife and kids sick. The same fears linger today, he said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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