As Texas Slams Door on New Prison Admissions, Bexar County Jail Reports COVID-19 Infections

click to enlarge As Texas Slams Door on New Prison Admissions, Bexar County Jail Reports COVID-19 Infections
Courtesy Bexar County
As concerns rise nationwide about COVID-19 sweeping through packed jails and prisons, Bexar County reports that a pair of inmates tested positive for the quick-spreading disease.

What's more, a nurse and a maintenance worker at the jail also tested positive, according to County Judge Nelson Wolff. During Sunday's televised city-county update on the pandemic, the judge called the diagnoses a "dangerous sign" and warned more infections are all but certain.

Jail staff are now checking inmates’ temperatures twice a day to slow the spread, Wolff said. New inmates are also being held in separate areas for 14 days to watch for symptoms.

"We have about 1,000 people working there as guards, and they go in and out of there every day," Wolff told the Current. "The danger is that if those people pick up an infection there, they go home and spread it to the community."

Under current rules, both jail prisoners and personnel should be wearing  masks, Wolff said. However, he added that equipment is in short supply and he worries there could be difficulty filling orders.

Wolff also cautioned that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order stopping judges from releasing certain inmates without paying bail makes it hard to limit Bexar County's jail population.

The new Bexar County Jail infections also come as the Texas prison system stopped taking new inmates from county lockups. According to an agency letter reported on by the Texas Tribune, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice put a halt to those new admissions on Monday.

COVID-19 infections have been confirmed in at least 10 of Texas' county jails, according to the Tribune. The number of state prisoners with the disease nearly doubled in one day last week, the website reports, citing state data.

"These numbers go up each day, and we must do more to deny this virus the opportunity to spread," wrote Bryan Collier, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, in a letter to sheriffs.

Wolff said he's concerned about Bexar's inability to move inmates into the prison system will also continue to crowd the jail at a dangerous time.

"We're getting hurt both on the front end and back end," he said.

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