South Florida Federal Corrections Officers Warn of Potential Coronavirus Crisis Brewing

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Workers at a federal prison in South Florida are warning about a potential coronavirus outbreak that they say could spread beyond the prison's walls.

“Our inmates are testing positive and we might have to flood the local hospitals. We have numerous inmates all over in Dade county hospitals," said Kareen Troitino, President of Union Local 3690, which represents the correctional officers at the federal prison in Southwest Miami-Dade.

Troitino gave the ominous warning in an exclusive interview with NBC 6 Thursday. The corrections officers are saying they fear for the public’s safety and the prison being the launching point for the virus.

The federal prison, located off busy 137th Avenue near Zoo Miami, is basically on lockdown now in an effort to stop the virus. Troitino said he’s worried the virus could spread around Miami-Dade because they take inmates to hospitals around the area and there’s a spike in cases in the county.

There are about 1,000 inmates held at the federal prison currently.

"The virus has already spread inside," Troitino said. "I am highly concerned for public safety. Our facility is in the middle of a community, a very vibrant community."

Internal documents NBC 6 obtained showed that on Tuesday, 11 inmates had the virus. Troitino says there was a big jump, indicating trouble.

"Yesterday alone we discovered in one area that held 60 inmates over 22 tested positive and that’s only after testing 28," he said. "We don’t know where this is going to lead but it looks catastrophic at the moment."

Troitino said officers were given inferior PPE gear. Warden Sylvester Jenkins denied that claim in an email.

"I have assured you that we do not have a PPE issue at FCI Miami," the email said.

Troitino worries that with the numbers rising inside it will cause them to transport more inmates to area hospitals, exposing the officers and the general public. Many hospitals are already short of beds.

“One of the hospitals that I don’t want to mention, their bed-space is at a critical level and they have been contacting us trying to get the inmate back to the facility but the facility is the worst environment and we’re in a catch-22," Troitino said. "We might have to create a mobile tent, hosptial.”

"We have placed the entire institution on a 21-day quarantine to mitigate the spread of the virus. The union says one officer has tested positive but staff levels are dropping as the exposures increase and officers can’t work. We could be looking at a collapse in our system very soon if we don’t some form of assistance," Jenkins said in an email.

Congresswoman Debbie Murcasel Powell weeks ago started asking the Bureau of Prisons to make sure the corrections officers had the right equipment. The facility isn’t out in some rural area and when they can’t handle the virus there the inmates are on the road to the hospital like everyone else.

The Bureau of Prisons released a lengthy statement saying in part, "There were not 22 or 28 inmates positive with COVID-19 at FCI Miami this week. There are only 16 inmates positive with COVID-19 at this institution."

The Bureau of Prisons said it's carefully monitoring the spread of the virus.

"As with any type of emergency situation, we carefully assess how to best ensure the safety of staff, inmates and the public. All of our facilities, including FCI Miami, are implementing the BOP's guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19," the statement read. "In response to COVID-19, the BOP has instituted a comprehensive management approach that includes screening, testing, appropriate treatment, prevention, education, and infection control measures. The BOP has been coordinating our COVID-19 efforts since January 2020, using subject-matter experts both internal and external to the agency, including guidance and directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Office of the Vice President."

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