A trio of corrections officers from three different Miami-Dade jails have tested positive for COVID-19, the county confirmed on Tuesday night.
Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Juan Diasgranados said the employees are at home recovering, and those who had contact with them were asked to get tested or self-isolate.
The three officers each worked at separate facilities — the MetroWest Detention Center, the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center and the Pre-Trial Detention Center, which is also known as the Dade County Jail, the county’s deputy mayor, Maurice Kemp, said on Tuesday night.
Two of the corrections officers were originally assigned to the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, but had been reassigned when the criminal courthouse largely shut down earlier this month because of the outbreak of the highly contagious virus.
The officers had worked in the courtrooms presided over last week by Miami-Dade circuit judges Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos, Alberto Milian, Andrea Wolfson and Laura Cruz. Staffers for the judges, as well as other people who appeared in the courtrooms, were being notified on Wednesday morning.
Court officials on Wednesday warned lawyers and others who appeared in court to monitor themselves for symptoms such as coughing, fever and difficulty breathing.
One officer was stationed in courtroom 2-7 on March 16, 17, 18 and 19. The other officer was stationed in courtroom 3-2 on March 17, and courtroom 7-2 on March 18. Last week, there were still a flurry of court hearings being held as the Public Defender’s Office sought to get clients out of jail on bond.
The positive tests came after corrections and police officers, as well as firefighters, began getting tested at a facility set up at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens and at C.B. Smith Park in Broward County.
Kemp said one of the infected officers is a supervisor and all three had various contacts with inmates. “One guard had close contact with another employee,” Kemp said.
That other person, Kemp said, is at home and has been tested. None of the jails’ officers showed any symptoms, the deputy mayor said.
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“This shows us that it’s a lot more prevalent in our community than we think,” Kemp said.
Law enforcement has been trying to limit the infection from striking inside Miami-Dade’s jails, where inmates and officers spend hours upon hours in close proximity. South Florida officers have been told to be passive in arresting people, especially for misdemeanor and non-violent crimes.
On Monday, the total jail population was at 3,548, down from about 4,000 a few weeks ago.
The close quarters had been a concern for Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez, who had been trying to get out as many of his office’s clients as possible.
“Our jailed clients are presumed innocent and there is no social distancing. With so many highly vulnerable, God forbid there’s an outbreak in the jail because for those awaiting trial it could become a death sentence,” Martinez said last week.
“The jail must have fewer inmates for maximum flexibility to isolate and quarantine infected individuals. Fewer inmates means better infection control and it’s much easier to cope with the jail staff shortages that are certain to come.”
This story was updated Wednesday with information on the courtrooms possibly exposed to the novel coronavirus.