Gov. Ron DeSantis offered his most extensive comments so far on COVID-19 in prisons on Wednesday, and a major takeaway was that it’s worse elsewhere.
“We obviously are having cases,” DeSantis said in Tallahassee in response to a reporter’s question. “You will continue to see some cases coming out of prisons.”
But in other states, he added, the problem is more extreme.
“If you look at some of these other states you’ll have massive outbreaks in prisons,” DeSantis said. “There’s some states where you have five, six, seven hundred prisoners, a thousand prisoners testing positive.”
Florida doesn’t have 1,000 prisoners testing positive, not yet, at least.
May 13th stats from the Florida Department of Corrections show 843 positive tests, compared to 3,876 negative tests, an 18% positivity rate. More than 6,000 others are in medical quarantine.
More than 1,600 tests are still pending, and if that positivity rate holds, 1,000 infected prisoners are not too far away.
The Governor initially seemed to underestimate the severity of the problem, noting Wednesday that while “the percentage of positive tests has been higher than the state as a whole,” his guess was that was only “between 10 and 15% in the prisons.”
By Thursday, his comms team issued a corrective social media post.
The percentage of positive test results for inmates – 18% – is much lower than what we’ve seen with other state prison outbreaks but is significantly higher than the positivity rate for the public at large in Florida.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) May 14, 2020
“We had yesterday 100 prisoners in Hamilton County and one of the rural counties. We have had it,” DeSantis noted Wednesday, before saying that elsewhere “there are prisons … with 75% testing positive.”
The Governor was optimistic in his spitballing. Hamilton actually had 112 positives. However, that number pales in comparison to the 191 diagnoses at Liberty.
Though 208 staffers systemwide have tested positive, and though the trend at many facilities has been staff infection as a prologue to inmate infection, the Governor marveled at how “amazing” the “percentage of people testing negative was.”
“In the long-term care, you’ll have staff outbreaks. In the prison, it’s been very small. One or two here, one or two there. I was expecting to see a lot of staff members testing positive, but you just haven’t seen it, and that’s something that’s been very, very important,” DeSantis said.
The Governor rejected calls to release immunocompromised and elderly inmates well before the first diagnoses in prisons.
What’s clear is that he has seen nothing to change his mind, and that issues in mass incarceration facilities are unique to themselves.
“It’s not that it doesn’t matter, it’s just a discrete issue,” DeSantis said, separate from “community outbreak.”