Juvenile facilities in Okeechobee report COVID-19 positive cases; One staff member at Okeechobee Girls Academy tests positive; one staff member and six youth test positive at Okeechobee Youth Development Facility

OKEECHOBEE – Two juvenile detention facilities on Okeechobee County have staff and/or juveniles who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

On May 15, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice released their weekly report on COVID-19 positive cases.

Okeechobee Girls Academy had one employee or contract staff member who tested positive.

Okeechobee Youth Development Center had one employee or contract staff member who tested positive and six youth who tested positive.

Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center had two employees or contract staff members who tested positive.

Palm Beach Youth Academy had three employees or contract staff members who tested positive.

Statewide, in Florida youth detention centers, a total of 29 employee or contract staff members and 12 youth tested positive, according to the DJJ report.

DJJ is working with the private contracted provider and the local health department to test all youth and staff at the program. All employees as well as parents/guardians of youth at the program have been notified. Increased cleaning and sanitization protocols will continue at the program.

The county health departments and/or each facility’s designated health authority determine when youth should be tested for COVID-19 based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing criteria. Youth inside juvenile detention centers and residential commitment programs are continuously being monitored and screened for symptoms and if a youth becomes symptomatic, he or she is isolated from other youth and the facility’s designated health authority is contacted.

In order to protect the personal health information of these individuals, the name or occupation of the employees at these facilities will not be identified. Staff listed above may be employed by the state or one of its contracted providers. All staff that work inside DJJ facilities are screened daily on every shift prior to entering the facility and if a staffer presents with symptoms, he or she is denied entry and is instructed to contact their health care provider. Staff will not be permitted to return to work until cleared by a medical professional. Outside vendors and personnel continue to be screened daily prior to entry.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has coordinated a proactive and comprehensive response to keep all youth and staff safe. In response to this pandemic, DJJ took the following actions:

• Developed a COVID-19 guidance for all facilities serving DJJ youth, including CDC criteria on how to assess and care for youth exhibiting flu-like symptoms and environmental cleaning and disinfection recommendations.

• Modified screening protocols and procedures for youth taken into custody by law enforcement who are brought to juvenile assessment centers and detention screening units to include precautionary coronavirus screening questions and protocols.
Instituted additional screening measures for outside vendors and personnel who work within juvenile facilities.

• Issued an emergency order suspending visitation at all state-operated juvenile detention centers and juvenile residential commitment programs. Both detention centers and residential commitment programs have worked diligently to maintain regular telephone communication, and if feasible video conferencing, between youth and their families.

• Developed and disseminated pandemic plans for all state-operated juvenile detention centers. Residential commitment providers have developed individual plans for juvenile residential commitment programs. All plans are in keeping with CDC guidelines.

Ongoing measures include the following:

• Youth entering into a juvenile detention facility must first complete a precautionary clearance form, which has been adapted to cover the symptoms and screening questions for COVID-19. All youth admitted into a residential commitment program are screened prior to leaving the detention center and then again upon their arrival to the residential commitment program.

• All staff that work at state-operated juvenile detention centers and residential commitment programs are screened daily on every shift prior to entering the facility. If a staff presents with symptoms, he or she is denied entry and instructed to contact their health care provider.
• Staff will not be permitted to return to work until cleared by a medical professional. Outside vendors and personnel continue to be screened daily prior to entry.

• State-operated juvenile detention centers and residential commitment programs have all implemented cleaning and sanitation plans to reduce the risk of spreading or contaminating surfaces.

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