A Galveston County Jail inmate tested positive for coronavirus this week, becoming the first case among the jail’s incarcerated population, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
In addition to the inmate, a sheriff’s deputy also has been away from work for two or three days with a fever while he awaits test results but has not yet been positively diagnosed, Trochesset said. If the deputy tests positive, he would be the fourth deputy at the jail to have contracted the infection.
“I can’t lock the front door and I can’t open the back door,” Trochesset said. “This is all about managing. This is going to come in cycles.”
The inmate, a woman, who tested positive this week, was a recent arrival at the jail and housed in a makeshift quarantine section, Trochesset said.
The sheriff’s office, taking precautions to reduce the risk of transmissions, quarantines new inmates in isolated cells for up to two weeks and takes temperatures of arrestees and jail staff, Trochesset said.
This inmate was sent to the hospital after about four days in jail for an unrelated health issue, Trochesset said. While at the hospital, she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The inmate had been asymptomatic, Trochesset said.
The inmate has not been back to the jail since the diagnosis, Trochesset said.
Sheriff’s office officials now are waiting for guidance from the health district on how to proceed, a process that likely will include monitoring and further testing for the inmates that had been in quarantine near the positive case, Trochesset said. There were about seven or eight inmates in that area.
“Last time, they actually brought an ambulance over and tested 24 or 25 people here,” he said. “Each one came back negative.”
In March, county officials made an effort to reduce the population of the county jail to deter the spread of the virus in 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 jail’s population this week was about 800, Trochesset said.
Despite the recent positive diagnoses, Trochesset said he was confident his staff was doing what it could to limit transmission.
“I don’t see how the over 800 inmates in the facility are going to get it, other than through someone new or an employee,” he said.
By maintaining strict quarantine procedures for new inmates and telling deputies who feel ill to stay home, the jail should remain relatively free from spread, Trochesset 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 who move in and out of 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 Monday, 7,445 state prison inmates and 1,116 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.