Two sheriff’s deputies who live in Homestead and work in the Key West jail tested positive this week for COVID-19. But widespread testing of other deputies has not revealed any additional cases so far.
Sheriff Rick Ramsay told Keys Weekly on Friday that one detention deputy did not follow the department’s protocols and put the entire detention center — inmates, deputies and staff — at risk.
“One of the two officers lives on the mainland with a relative who, unbeknownst to us, was showing signs of COVID-19,” Ramsay said. “We’ve been saying since the beginning, the biggest risk in all of this is not from the inmates, but the officers coming and going to and from the jail. Our officers have all been told not to come to work if they believe they’ve been in close contact with someone who could be infected. This officer did not let us know that his relative had been tested and was awaiting the results.”
When the deputy, who commutes with a coworker, arrived for his night shift at the jail this week, he was changing into his uniform in a different building, and he had not yet set foot in the jail facility when he got a call from home saying his relative had tested positive, the sheriff said.
“He alerted his supervisor and was immediately sent to the hospital for a rapid test, which came back positive,” Ramsay said. “The other officer who commutes with him also tested positive.”
Although the positive deputies hadn’t been at work for a few days, the sheriff’s office sent the other 18 deputies from that night shift to the hospital for rapid tests.
“We also immediately alerted the health department, and they determined that 18 people had close enough contact with the deputies to warrant rapid tests,” Ramsay said.
As of Friday, June 12, 10 of those 18 tests had come back negative with the others still pending.
Also on Friday, the health department set up a testing team in the outdoor area underneath the jail building to conduit testing on another 20 or so officers who the health department had a lower chance of having been infected.
“But in an abundance of caution, the health department came over and tested those 20 or so deputies,” Ramsay said. “Those tests take about 48 hours for results. But we’re feeling pretty good about things now.m The health department didn’t even encourage those who were in the second tier of testing to stay home while awaiting their results. They did all the necessary contact tracing and found no concerns regarding the inmate population.
The sheriff added that all inmates, for the past several weeks, have been ordered to wear masks whenever they’re outside of their cell. He also added that fortunately, the two positive deputies had recently been assigned to lockdown units in which there is very minimal contact between inmates and officers.
“We’ve done everything we can, and so far all is looking very positive. Obviously, we’re disappointed this one officer didn’t do as he was told, and put everyone at risk. This certainly sends a message about the importance of following orders and doing as instructed,” Ramsay said. “This virus doesn’t discriminate based on where you live, how much money you make or what kind of car — or bicycle — you drive.”
With the island chain now reopen to visitors, Ramsay said he expects to see an increase in positive cases.
“And with more people, our officers are making more arrests and coming into contact with more people, especially those from difficult locations. But each arrestee is quarantined for two weeks upon arrival, so the jail is really the safest place to be, as long as everyone follows the directions,” the sheriff said.