By Ankita Joshi
BROWARD COUNTY, FL – Broward County Jail has been under fire for placing incarcerated people in dangerous situations that expose them to the rapid spread of COVID-19 – hundreds of COVID-19 infections among those detained and hundreds of jail staff have been confirmed, despite limited virus testing.
The ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, and Disability Rights Florida have sued the Broward County Sherriff’s Office on behalf of those incarcerated, and have demanded that the Sherriff’s Office must “immediately take action to protect people in their custody from contracting the virus.”
In May 2021, a federal court approved the class action settlement against Broward County’s Sheriff’s Office.
Some of these COVID-19 prevention and containment procedures include “providing appropriate and adequate cleaning supplies, soap, and sanitizer; housing people in a manner that permits social distancing and protects those who are medically vulnerable; medically isolating and treating symptomatic and COVID-19 positive individuals; properly screening and quarantining newly admitted or transferred detained individuals; waiving fees for sick calls; and providing accurate and reliable tests for COVID-19.”
Additionally it was noted that regardless of the large number of vaccines available in Broward County, people in jails in Broward County have been some of the most impacted by the pandemic, and have had very little access to vaccines.
After the settlement had been approved in May 2021, the Sheriff undertook a vaccine initiative to offer the Johnson & Johnson (single dose) vaccine. But as of June 2021, only 1,532 people detained at the county jail have been vaccinated, even though the jail housed 3,500 individuals during that time.
There has been little information given about the J&J vaccine by the Sheriff, but he has agreed to distribute more written information from trusted public health experts.
The spread of COVID-19 in jail populations is especially concerning, as they are transient and often operate close to full capacity.
Concern has been raised over the last few months, according to the lawsuit, as several new variants of COVID-19 have become pervasive – noted the pleading, “Florida has consistently been among the states with the highest B.1.1.7. variant COVID-19 case count… [and] Broward County has the highest percentage of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 in the entire state of Florida.”