Last week, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) conducted comprehensive COVID-19 testing of the county jail inmates and employees.
Out of 4444 people tested, only 19 inmates and 7 jail employees tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in a rate of infection of less than one percent.
“Though we hate that anyone has this illness, we are glad it is so few. All of those individuals have been quarantined and are being cared for and precautions to prevent further spread continue,” the TCSO said in a press statement.
The opportunity was presented to the county by the Texas Jail Standards Commission in conjunction with the Tarrant County Health Department.
“We were offered the opportunity to test the entire population and we were glad to do so,” Lt. Jennifer Gabbert, TCSO public information officer told The Texan.
In environments like the jail, a 3.5 percent positive rate is common. That would have meant about 155 people in the Tarrant County Jail would have tested positive. The results show that Tarrant County achieved a 0.6 percent positive test rate.
Knowing that many positive results would lead to staffing issues, the sheriff’s office began preparing contingency plans to fill holes in the event of mass employee COVID cases.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is still limiting transfer of inmates to its facilities, so Tarrant County Jail is still housing inmates that have been given state prison sentences. According to the TDCJ website, it will resume the intake of offenders from county jails on a limited basis beginning July 1.
TDC reports that it has tested over 140,000 inmates and employees for coronavirus. 7,535 offenders and 1,185 staff have tested positive in both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing.
The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office established protocols early on in the coronavirus outbreak to combat the spread of the virus in the jail population. Medical screening at booking, temperature checks for employees and contractors, separation of any inmate suspected of having the virus, and use of personal protection equipment are some of the measures that have been used in the jail. Those protocols are still being followed.
“We firmly believe that the dedication to professionalism and adherence to the directions being given to curtail the influence of active COVID-19 cases will ensure that we successfully conquer this pandemic.”
Dallas County and Harris County were both sued in federal court by inmates and advocacy groups seeking their release to prevent them from contracting coronavirus. The injunctions were denied in both cases.
On June 19, an inmate passed away at the Tarrant County Jail. He had a long history of health issues, the TCSO stated. Although no foul play is suspected, the Texas Rangers will conduct an investigation as with all in-custody deaths. As part of the investigation, this incident will also be reviewed by internal affairs and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
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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.