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Florida prison leader, deputy test positive for COVID-19

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch is experiencing some symptoms of the virus, the agency said.
Credit: Florida Department of Corrections
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch speaks July 27 at a Florida Sheriff's Association meeting.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's prison boss who recently visited a state prison where the majority of its 2,000-plus inmates tested positive for COVID-19 has himself fallen ill.

Corrections Secretary Mark Inch began experiencing mild symptoms of the virus for about a day following a return from a statewide conference and a visit to Columbia Correctional Institution, the agency said in a news release. He tested positive July 30 and continues to have symptoms that do not require hospitalization, it added.

Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon also was found to have the virus the same day and is asymptomatic.

People who were in close contact with the Inch and Dixon are said to have been informed of possible exposure and are encouraged to undergo testing. Although the Department of Corrections did not name the event that Inch had attended, it tweeted he spoke July 27 at the Flordia Sheriff's Association.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls spoke at the same conference, according to the Miami Herald, citing social media posts.

"Just like the numerous correctional and probation officers and staff who we’ve asked to stay home and recuperate after a positive test, Deputy Secretary Dixon and I are self-isolating as a result of our recent COVID-19 test results. We both look forward to returning to work as quickly as allowed by CDC guidelines," Inch said in the release. 

"I want to encourage all Floridians to continue protecting our vulnerable residents, practice proper hygiene, wear masks when in close contact with others and practice social distancing to slow the spread of this virus.”

The Florida Department of Corrections said it is not yet known how the secretary and deputy secretary were exposed to COVID-19.

The Columbia Correctional Institution, with a prison population of about 2,200 inmates, as of July 29 has 1,216 who tested positive for COVID-19.

"The great majority of inmates at Columbia CI who have tested positive are showing mild or no symptoms of the virus. For those that do require an elevated level of medical care, our health care professionals continue to go above and beyond to provide outstanding medical attention," Inch said in a statement at the time.

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