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As COVID-19 Cases Rise, TDCJ Says The Biggest Risk To Inmates Comes From Outside

Austin Price for KUT

From Texas Standard:

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Wednesday that it's locking down 15 prisons in response to the coronavirus crisis. One correctional officer and one inmate died earlier this week; both had tested positive for COVID-19.

Jeremy Desel, communications director for TDCJ, says lockdown means inmates have to stay in their cells and visitors aren't allowed. But he tells the Texas Standard that the threat to the health of inmates and staff doesn't start in the prison; it comes from the outside.

"The prison environment is initially safe and clean and free of the virus," he says. "If it's going to be brought into the prison system, it's going to come in from the outside."

TDCJ's response to that risk is multifold. All prison staff, as well as parole officers, are required to wear cotton masks. Staff interacting with inmates who may have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 wear N95 masks. And those working with inmates who have contracted COVID-19 wear full personal protective equipment, including gowns and eye protection.

As for inmates' health, Desel says much of their testing and care has been consolidated to a few institutions, including the John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. That hospital can care for patients in critical condition, if needed. The Huntsville prison campus also has a health care facility that's helping with inmate care during the pandemic.

Desel says so far, there are fewer COVID-19 cases per capita in Texas prisons than in the general population.

Written by Caroline Covington.

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