More staff members at a federal prison in Fort Worth are expected to be offered testing for the novel coronavirus this week, the county public health director and a union leader confirmed.
This week, Tarrant County officials and the Bureau of Prisons confirmed more than 600 inmates at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Fort Worth have tested positive for COVID-19. The fifth inmate to die of the virus was reported on Sunday.
The federal prison has 1,467 inmates, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
“That is the highest percentage of cases of any long term care facility in Tarrant County and from my conversation on Sunday with a lot of folks, I think it’s the highest percentage of positive testing of any federal prison in the country,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said Tuesday.
At the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday, Judge Whitley said he wanted to see all staffers and guards at FMC Fort Worth tested.
When asked what kind of power the county had over mandated testing, Whitley told reporters “Not a bit. Not a bit, but we have a congress representative, a ranking member, that I’m guessing that her request won’t go unheeded,” referring to Rep. Kay Granger.
A spokesperson for Rep. Granger's office confirmed Tuesday, Granger has been in contact with Judge Whitley and Federal Director of Prisons regarding the outbreak at FMC Fort Worth.
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Though the county cannot mandate testing, Tarrant County Public Health director Vinny Taneja said it has been offered to the FMC Fort Worth.
“We were told there’s about 300, a little over 300 staff. Out of which, I’ve heard 25 had already gone to various locations for testing. We offered testing to the rest of the staff, and about 91 showed up last week. We have testing set up tomorrow [Wednesday], so if 91 or 100 show up – we’re getting close,” Taneja said. “As far as the inmates are concerned, the Bureau of Prisons is taking care of those inmates, and they’re doing the testing. They’re the federal entity for that.”
Gregory Watts, leader of the union representing correctional officers at the facility, confirmed testing will be available on Wednesday.
At a briefing before the commissioners court on Tuesday, Taneja said about 37% of cases in Tarrant County were from facilities including, but not limited to, nursing homes and jails.
Other long-term facilities include prisons, rehabilitation centers, and retirement communities, Taneja said.
Overall, Taneja said confirmed cases in Tarrant County were trending upwards along with hospitalizations. In mid-April, he said COVID-19 patients made up about 4% of occupied hospital beds in Tarrant County. Recently, that has increased slightly to about 7%, Taneja said Tuesday.
As for the number of “COVID-like illnesses” being reported, he said that is declining. This covers the people who are going to medical providers with symptoms, Taneja said.
“Is that really significant? It’s hard to say at this point, because it’s just in the last week and we’ve seen those declines happen in our data and it went right back up,” he said.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state has more than 41,000 confirmed cases. More than 22,000 patients have recovered.