Three Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputies were diagnosed with COVID-19 this week, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said Friday.
It’s the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic that cases have been associated with the jail.
“I’ve always said, ultimately if it’s out in society, it’s going to be in here,” Trochesset said.
In confirming the cases among the deputies, Trochesset added that a nurse who worked at the jail also was diagnosed with COVID-19 “a week or two ago.”
As of Friday, no cases had been positively identified among jail inmates, Trochesset said. The Galveston County Health District early this week helped conduct 24 tests among jailers and inmates, Trochesset said.
As of Friday morning, 810 people were being held at the jail.
“We’re not sure if they caught it from the facility or outside,” Trochesset said.
In March, county officials made an effort to reduce the population of the county jail to deter the spread of the virus among the jail population. A combination of plea deals, bond agreements, prisoner transfers and an appeal to police to avoid jailing people for low-level crimes helped to reduce the jail population from about 1,000 inmates to about 700, officials said.
As Texas has reopened from state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, the number of people being sent to the jail also has increased.
The sheriff’s office is taking precautions to reduce the risk of virus transmissions, including quarantining new inmates in isolated cells for up to two weeks and taking the temperatures of arrestees and jail staff.
“We have a certain area where they’re technically kind of away and quarantined for two weeks after they’re arrested and brought into the facility,” Trochesset said. “If they don’t show any signs, we move them into a general population area of the jail.”
Deputies working in the jail aren’t required to wear masks and gloves inside the facility, he said.
“Only if they want,” Trochesset said.
In response to the diagnoses, sheriff’s office leaders on Friday were discussing how to sanitize the booking area of the jail more often, Trochesset said. The sheriff’s office is consulting with the Galveston County Health District about other prevention measures, he said.
There is a heightened potential for COVID-19 to spread in detention facilities like jails because of the way people congregate in them and because of the number of people that move in and out of the them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There have been large outbreaks of COVID-19 within the Texas jail and prison system. As of Thursday, 7,200 state prison inmates and 1,071 employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the agency. That figure doesn’t include people in custody at county jails.
There have been more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 connected to the Harris County Jail, including nearly 300 cases in jail staff members.