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‘It was just a matter of time:’ Mayor confirms COVID-19 outbreak at Orange County Jail

33 inmates test positive for coronavirus

In this April 16, 2020, photo a gloved hand points to a holding cell at the hospital ward of the Twin Towers jail  in Los Angeles. Across the country first responders who've fallen ill from COVID-19, recovered have begun the harrowing experience of returning to jobs that put them back on the front lines of America's fight against the novel coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
In this April 16, 2020, photo a gloved hand points to a holding cell at the hospital ward of the Twin Towers jail in Los Angeles. Across the country first responders who've fallen ill from COVID-19, recovered have begun the harrowing experience of returning to jobs that put them back on the front lines of America's fight against the novel coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Dozens of inmates at the Orange County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Mayor Jerry Demings.

The Orange County mayor confirmed the outbreak during a news conference on Thursday, saying 33 inmates had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“You’ve heard me say this before that the Orange County Jail is a microcosm of Orange County at large,” Demings said. “Well, you know with law enforcement officers arresting people from the community and taking them to the jail, we knew that it was just a matter of time before we would have cases in our jail.”

Demings said they received 529 new test results for inmates on Wednesday. Of those tests that yielded positive results, Demings said only one inmate was symptomatic, meaning the other two were not showing symptoms of the virus. Additionally, the mayor said four of the inmates who tested positive had already been released from the jail.

“Because this is a local jail, the overwhelming majority of individuals who are booked in our jail are only there for a short period of time. They are not there for long periods of time,” he said.

As of Thursday, Demings said more than 2,800 tests had been conducted on inmates. Demings said they’re still awaiting 150 test results.

The mayor also said on Thursday that the county plans to test the entire in-custody population by next week. Demings said there are more than 2,100 inmates in the Orange County Jail.

Chief of Orange County Corrections Louis A. Quiñones, Jr. said the jail regularly tests new inmates for COVID-19 during the booking process but that testing is voluntary, which means inmates can refuse to take one.

Quiñones said that inmates are also given a COVID-19 questionnaire during the booking process.

“It’s a questionnaire and what happens is when the individual gets arrested, we ask them certain questions. We ask them if they have traveled certain places, whether or not they’ve tested positive,” Quiñones said.

According to Quiñones, new inmates are also placed in quarantine in an effort to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

“Then what we do is when they first come in, we put them in what we call a quarantine housing unit. And that’s anywhere from 14 to 30 days. So that way it goes through the incubation period, before we even put them into general population,” Quiñones said.

Quiñones said they also educate inmates and jail employees about COVID-19 safety measures by posting signage encouraging them to practice social distancing. Staff members are required to wear masks and inmates are asked to wear face coverings when possible, according to Quiñones.

In addition to those safety measures, Quiñones said the jail has halted all non-essential visitors from entering the building and requires anyone who does to undergo a temperature check.

During the same update on Thursday, Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, confirmed a “significant” COVID-19 outbreak at an assisted living facility in Ocoee.

According to Pino, 66 residents and 30 staff members at Ocoee Health Center had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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