DEL VALLE, Texas - The Travis County correctional facility in Del Valle had inmates test positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and Wednesday totaling 15.
It’s not known how the virus got inside, but they are the first cases to occur at the complex according to Travis County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Kristen Dark.
"We built a plan for the day COVID might touch our General Population, as soon as it happened that plan went into effect and is being carried out now," said Dark.
Along with the 15 inmates, this week 19 employees with the sheriff's office also tested positive for COVID-19, with eight of those being employees at the jail. Family members of inmates, like a woman identified as Iris who contacted FOX7, suspect the virus was brought in by a jailer.
"I’m worrying it's going to end up spreading into where he is at, and he is going to get it too," said Iris.
The downtown jail is where key parts of the sheriff's COVID-19 protocol takes place. It starts with isolation and then two levels of quarantine.
People who go through the intake process are held for 10 to 14 days. The first level of quarantine happens when an inmate shows symptoms or refuses to answer CDC screening questions. Those with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are moved to a separate floor and also placed into an individual cell.
The jail downtown is where both quarantine floors are located. Currently, 40 inmates are classified as being in quarantine.
"The system we have in place right now is working. And evidence of that is the fact that we went 10 months without COVID in our General Population. The fact that throughout the entire pandemic we've only had 80 inmates test positive," said Dark.
No inmates with the virus are held at the Del Valle facility. Despite that, one inmate's mother, Nancy, told FOX 7 she is worried about exposure risks and that opportunities to go outside were reduced from three hours to one.
"What I want them to do is to provide more hand sanitizer and more precautions for them, because as it stands now it from what I’m getting is the guards, the post officers, are the ones taking precautions for themselves and not for the inmates, if they think one hour a day is going to keep anyone from getting it, it’s not," said Nancy.
In response, Dark told FOX7, sanitizing stations are in hallways and soap and masks are also available. The hours outside were reduced to address the logistics of social distancing 1,800 inmates.
"My message to family members who are concerned, we understand, we are concerned too, we absolutely positively do not want COVID in our jails. It affects our inmates and it affects our employees, we don’t want this to happen we are doing everything we can to stop it," said Dark.
Facilities undergo regular cleaning and a contractor has also been brought in to spray a long-lasting disinfectant. In the downtown jail the HVAC system for the jail cells does not recirculate air. Dark also says none of the inmates with the virus have required hospitalization and there have been no COVID-19 related deaths.
An expanded list of Travis County Jail COVID protocols, according to Kristen Dark, include but are not limited to:
- Following CDC guidelines as they are issued
- Enhanced sanitation procedures in all facilities
- Acquired additional soap to ensure that inmates have a constant supply to maintain their hygiene and health
- Posted information in inmate units concerning social distancing, handwashing, and COVID FAQ’s
- Screening at intake for arrestees
- Temperature screening of staff at all points of entry to jail facilities and for parolee returns to CCB
- At intake, arrestees who show symptoms of illness or refuse to answer the COVID screening questions are housed in the "Quarantine" unit at TCJ until cleared by medical
- Inmate seamstresses are currently making masks for inmates
- 10-14 day isolation-housing requirement for all new arrestees. Medical is monitoring this population daily. If no symptoms of illness develop within those 10-14 days, they’re moved into general population
- Transfer inmates From TCJ to TCCC Isolation units are given masks
- Created new housing unit for 65 and older and the medically compromised
- Waived all sick call fees pertaining to symptoms of the virus or the flu.
- Video with COVID-19 information has been created to ensure all inmates can hear from professionals
- Inmates in isolation receive their meals on disposable Styrofoam trays and are provided disposable paper spoons
- All family visitation is via kiosk/table and the cost of video visitation has been discounted by 50% for the duration of the stay at home order
- Four virtual courtrooms and 8 break-out rooms (for private counsel with attorneys) are active in the correctional complex
- Other official/ onfidential visits are conducted virtually
- Passed out Securus Tablets to all inmates in GP.
- Social distancing protocols in place with designated markings in strategically placed locations
- Installed additional hand sanitizing stations in high traffic areas
- Installed sink in TCCB sally port for hand washing
- Installed Plexiglas barriers in booking, front visitation at TCCC, HSB clinic /medical units and medical areas of booking
- Hand sanitizer available to staff at TCCC entry and exit
- Put HEPA Air Scrubbers in quarantine units and Booking
- Evaluated system to find best housing areas for quarantining inmates suspected of having COVID
- Implemented the use of Chemical Foggers and sprayers for area decontamination
- Restricted all non-essential staff, partners, and volunteers from coming into the jail to reduce potential exposures
- Implemented a process for inmates to continue to work with community partners on social issues so that court cases are not held up.
- Implemented processes for behavioral health staff to see patients remotely
- TC Sheriff Website updated with new number for attorney callbacks. Attorney callbacks and routine matters will be directed via this number to visitation staff who will resolve the call or dispatch the attorney to the appropriate place
- Securus attorney visit times extended from 25 min to one hour
- Working towards additional kiosks assigned specifically for attorney visits in various locations within inmate housing buildings
- Developed and distributed program booklets for inmates to continue to have access to self-improvement programming remotely
- Implemented new Travis County mask requirement
- All new arrestees issued a mask at booking and all inmates in custody issued masks0
- All staff required to wear masks, either issued or personal as long as they are made per CDC guidelines
- Approved TCJS alternative booking location for known positive COVID-app arrestees
- Parole hearings are moving towards virtual, thus further limiting persons entering the jail facilities
- Inmates in isolation issued tablets and headphones needed to use phone
- COVID-19 FAQs and video to be put on Securus kiosks and inmate tablets
- Daily briefings with all divisions of the organization and information is distributed to all employees via their chain of command