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Virus wanes in Miami jails but still takes a toll: 3 officers, 2 inmates just died of COVID

At least four corrections officers, as well as several inmates, had died of COVID during earlier waves

Miami Dade Pretrial Detention Center

A corrections officer stands near a door at the Miami-Dade County Pre-Trial Detention Center, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Miami.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

By David Ovalle
Miami Herald

MIAMI, Fla. — Three Miami-Dade corrections officers and two inmates have died of complications of COVID-19 in recent days, a reminder of the virus’ lethal impact even as the overall numbers wane in the jails and across South Florida.

Since last week, the deadly viral disease killed officers Calyne St. Val, 40, and Sylvia Allen, 50, and Corporal Terrell Jordan.

The 46-year-old Jordan died in late September after spending a month in the hospital, and just days shy of his wedding anniversary, his wife said. A jail officer of nearly two decades, Jordan had been studying to take the exam for a promotion to sergeant.

“Terrell was an especially dedicated law enforcement officer. And he truly loved his family,” said his wife, Lakeisha Jordan, 43. “He had a great personality, and was always a jokester. Always had a smile on his face.”

The inmates who died: Pamela Cody, 45, and Adalberto Gonzalez, 71.

“The loss of these three dedicated first responders and those incarcerated in our facilities are tragic reminders of the dangers of COVID-19,” Miami-Dade Corrections Director Daniel Junior said in a statement.

As with correctional facilities across the country, Miami-Dade jails — with an ever-fluctuating population living in cramped quarters — have struggled with COVID-19 outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic.

During the summer delta surge, the jails were hit hard. At one point in late August, there were 188 inmates who’d tested positive, plus 136 employees who had to be quarantined either because they’d contracted the virus, or been exposed.

Previously, at least four corrections officers, as well as several inmates, had died of COVID during earlier waves.

Across Florida, COVID-19 cases have dropped steadily in recent weeks, and the same goes for Miami-Dade’s three jails, which house inmates awaiting trials or those serving sentences of less than a year.

Currently, the corrections system is reporting 32 employees who are COVID positive and at home isolating, and 26 inmates behind bars.

Still, conditions in the jail are concerning for advocates for incarcerated persons.

During the early months of the pandemic, the Miami-Dade jail population decreased drastically — down to about 3,000 per day — as police made fewer arrests and officials sought to ease crowds behind bars. The population has since mushroomed, to over 4,400 per day.

“With the jail population this high, people are crammed together in cells that are over capacity, while officers are under tremendous stress and are quitting in unprecedented numbers,” said Maya Ragsdale, the executive director of Beyond the Bars, a community organization that works to better the lives of people affected by the correctional system.

“There really is only one solution to this problem. Reduce the jail population. Let people wait for trial at home.”

Cody had only been in jail since last month, awaiting trial on a felony battery charge. Gonzalez had been awaiting trial since 2019 on two cases of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor.

A coalition of justice reform organizations sued Miami-Dade County over COVID conditions in the jails, a suit that ultimately fizzled. The department has stressed it tests all new inmates, requires inmates and staff to wear masks and hosts on-site COVID-19 testing and vaccinations for inmates and employees.

“MDCR also continues to work with Corrections Health Services (CHS), the inmate medical and mental health provider, to engage, educate and encourage all those in our custody and employees to get vaccinated,” Director Junior said in his statement.

Jordan, the correctional corporal, was not vaccinated, although his family said he didn’t have any objections to taking it. “He was going to get it,” said his cousin, Debra Burton. “He just got caught before he was able to get vaccinated.”

Jordan, whose funeral is on Saturday, is believed to have contracted the virus at Metro West Detention Center, where he worked. He fell ill more than a month ago, with chills, a sore throat and extreme fatigue.

While at the hospital, Jordan was only able to visit with his wife through a glass door, or by video calls.

Despite his worsening condition, Jordan stayed upbeat.

“He was always positive,” said his wife. “He never wanted his family to worry about him.”

Jordan, an avid Heat fan who loved to play basketball, leaves behind a 14-year-old son.

©2021 Miami Herald.