The number of inmates in Miami-Dade County jails who have tested positive for COVID-19 has exploded in recent days.
That’s according to a document filed in federal court on Saturday. The ongoing lawsuit was filed in the name of several inmates in Metro West Detention Center, claiming that the conditions in the facility lacked basic hygiene and that measures to stop or limit the spread of COVID-19 were effectively impossible inside the facility. Attorneys argued in the lawsuit that an "outbreak of the novel coronavirus is imminent" in Metro West.
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In the document filed on Saturday, Miami-Dade County reported that 159 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in Metro-West Detention Center alone. The number reflected the number of positive inmates in the facility as of April 19.
As recently as Friday, the county indicated that only 59 inmates across the entire jail system had tested positive.
The court filing represents more than 700 tests that were given at Metro West last week, the results of which were only received by the county on Friday and Saturday, said Juan Diasgranados, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade jail system.
The delay in receiving the test results appears to have added confusion to the matter, as the date listed on the court document signifies the date the tests were given, not the date the results were received.
The county "has implemented this expanded testing to include inmates who are not exhibiting any symptoms in an effort to identify inmates positive for COVID-19 who otherwise may not have been identitied in order to isolate them in accordance with medical protocols," wrote Diasgranados in an email.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus began, county officials have taken some steps to lower the population in Miami-Dade jails, citing concerns about what could happen if the disease takes root inside the system. The day Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a public health state of emergency in Florida, there were 3,897 people incarcerated in Miami-Dade jails. That number has since come down to 3,255, according to a daily inmate population report published by the Department of Corrections. About 1,800 inmates were housed in Metro West when the lawsuit was filed. The numbers that the county reported in the federal court filing do not include inmates who have tested positive in the main jail near downtown, or in Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, two other large-scale facilities of the largest local jail system in the state. Since the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge ordered the county to provide inmates at Metro-West with hygiene products and to make sure inmates are able to socially distance within the facility “to the maximum extent possible.” The judge also ordered the county to test any inmates who show signs of the novel coronavirus.
At the time, the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections said the order only reiterated steps that the department had been taking across the jail system.
In addition to the 159 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19, 16 staff members at Metro West have also tested positive, according to the court filing. A total of 557 people had been tested at the facility as of April 19, including 72 staff and 485 inmates.
“We really feel that there’s some egregious things going on inside the system,” said Maya Ragsdale, an attorney working on the federal case.
The percentage of those tested at Metro West who were found to have COVID-19 — 31 percent — is more than double the average for Miami-Dade County, according to the state report for April 26.
This story has been updated to reflect a response from the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections