DALLAS - At least five inmates who have been in the Dallas County jail have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown said the first inmate to test positive was a male inmate in his 40s who had been there since December. He was housed in a shared unit with about 50 other inmates. Those inmates have since been screened and at least four also tested positive for COVID-19.
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Sheriff Brown said the sick inmates are now in isolation. She did not give an update on their condition, only saying they are being housed in another jail facility. All other asymptomatic inmates from the shared unit are now in quarantine.
The area where the inmates were being housed will be cleaned and disinfected.
“Since learning of the positive status, we have been working with our health professionals to implement our contingency plan which involves identifying all individuals who have had contact with the inmate. This means inmates and employees,” the sheriff said.
Because the first inmate has been in custody since December, Sheriff Brown said the news does suggest the virus is present in the jail. The department is still investigating how that inmate contracted the virus.
"We are further conducting an investigation to determine how it happened here," she said. “At this point, we continue to activate our protocols and we continue working with our correctional health professionals and county health authorities to manage this situation.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference that they are prepared if more inmates get sick. He also said that all video calls with inmates will now be free.
“I have loved ones who have loved ones in that jail,” said Tiara Cooper, a former inmate. “So for me, it’s a mixture of confusion and lack of transparency.”
Inmate advocacy groups said they want the sheriff’s department to let the public know how often the jail is being cleaned. They want inmates to have more access to cleaning products and laundry facilities. And they said Dallas County should follow the lead of other states that have released some low-level and especially vulnerable inmates.
Dallas County said it is working to release some low-level offenders, but it has not shared how many or exactly who qualifies.
All inmates are now undergoing enhanced intake procedures which means they are asked additional questions and screened for symptoms. Starting Thursday, all employees entering the jail will have their temperature taken when they arrive for work.
The department said it will also work with health officials and the Texas State Jail Commission as required.