Jackson Correctional Institution officer Wayne Rogers is remembered by colleagues as a 30-year veteran officer who served with honor throughout his career. Those who loved him remember Rogers as a hard worker who cherished time spent with his family and riding his motorcycle with Lauri Rogers, his wife of 30 years.
Rogers, 65, is the first state prison officer known to have died of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, a disease raging through the Florida prison system.
Rogers and his wife, 61, both contracted COVID-19 earlier last month, and were sent home to quarantine after a July 12 trip to the emergency room. Their health declined and they were both admitted to the hospital July 18. The couple got sicker over the course of two weeks, according to their daughter, Tiffany Davis.
They died within an hour of each other on July 30 at Southeast Health, a hospital near the Florida border in Dothan, Ala., close to where they lived.
The prison system has not been able to contain the virus, which had infected 8,551 inmates and 1,769 staff members as of Monday evening. Fifty-three inmates have died.
Despite the high rate of infection, Rogers’ death marks a first for the disease-ridden prison system, which has struggled to contain the virus since the first inmates caught the disease in March. His death is not reflected on the Department of Health’s prison death report, which is updated once weekly.
The FDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Not even top brass have been spared. Department Secretary Mark Inch and Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon both tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday after visiting Columbia Correctional and attending a Florida Sheriff’s Association conference July 27.
Rogers’ death comes around the same time a Miami-Dade County correctional officer died of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the first known death of an employee of Miami-Dade’s detention system.
Florida Police Benevolent Association’s James Baiardi, who represents corrections officers, wrote in a statement that Rogers, a veteran of the department, served with “dignity and honor for many years.”
At the prison Rogers worked at in the Panhandle, 21 officers have tested positive. No inmates have tested positive, but only 11 out of about 1,300 inmates have been tested.
Protections for corrections officers have become a focus of the union, which says officers like Rogers have not received proper personal protective equipment or access to testing. So many officers have gotten sick with the disease that the Department of Corrections is launching emergency plans at two prisons with significant staffing shortages, requiring workers at Dade and Jefferson correctional institutions to work 12-hour shifts up to six days a week.
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A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections told the Miami Herald last week in a statement that “there is no shortage of supplies” and noted that the department offers voluntary testing to all staff and inmates at 15 state institutions. Jackson is not on that list.
Baiardi, the union representative, said some officers who tested positive have told the union they are called back to work so long as they didn’t have symptoms. The union has filed three labor grievances against the department and has been pushing for hazard pay for officers as they pick up extra hours and shifts. Baiardi said some officers sleep in their cars or in garages to avoid contact with their families for fear of passing along the illness.
Baiardi said Rogers “was well-liked and highly respected by his fellow officers.”
Davis said her parents were both “country, down-to-earth, simple people.” She said Rogers spoke often about working in the prison, and would “always light up when he talked about work.”
“He was proud of being a sergeant,” she said.
“My mom had a heart of gold and was always laughing and smiling. My dad would do anything for anyone and was the hardest worker,” she said. “They were the sweetest people and loved to ride their motorcycles.”
The couple is survived by Davis, as well as daughter Lezlie Burch and son Robert Rogers. Their five grandchildren are Emma Grace Davis, Noah Davis, Olivia Kate Richards, Drake Burch and Brody Burch.
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