The Tarrant County jail, the fifteenth largest jail in the nation currently holding about 3,300 inmates, had remained coronavirus free until two inmates tested positive over the weekend.
Sheriff Bill Waybourn told the Tarrant County Commissioners Court on Tuesday that the two inmates had been isolated and will be quarantined until at least April 24, but they are exhibiting very minor symptoms and are doing well.
“We put protocols and procedures in place before there was any outbreak in the state and as things worsened around the state, we looked at ways to strengthen those protocols,” David McClelland, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s chief of staff told The Texan.
Tarrant County jail has been a model with its strict protocols for other jails and agencies around the state, Waybourn said. Those protocols are now being used by the state as the standard for jails by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
When any new detainees arrive at the jail, they are medically screened before they are taken to the booking area in the jail. They are then housed separately from the general population for 10 to 14 days and screened daily.
Additionally, jail staff and particularly confinement officers have their temperatures taken daily by medical staff upon arrival. Staff working in areas of the jail where suspected COVID-19 patients are housed must wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Staff working in other areas are offered PPE, but are not required to wear it at this time.
With the positive tests this weekend, even stricter protocols were implemented. Food vendor employees, jail employees, and inmates will have multiple temperature checks daily.
Research will be conducted to determine who the infected inmates may have come into contact with. In order to curb any additional spread of coronavirus, some areas within the jail will be quarantined until all inmates are confirmed to be coronavirus-free.
Waybourn also told the commissioners that the Texas Department of Corrections has announced that it will not be accepting any prisoners for at least three weeks, which will likely cause the jail population to increase by about 400 detainees.
The sheriff gave a shout-out to Trinity Distilleries, which has supplied the jail with a 55-gallon barrel of hand sanitizer with a pump so that there is no shortage for the jail staff and inmates.
Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks inquired about how many misdemeanor detainees not yet convicted were being held in the jail.
Waybourn believed the number to be about 170 and suggested that they were still in detention due to some past criminal history, but that a release decision would be made by judges, not the sheriff’s office.
Governor Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting the release of violent prisoners. Lawsuits have been raised in Harris and Dallas counties regarding jail conditions and the release of prisoners.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.