Tarrant County sent a team of health experts to a federal prison in Fort Worth on Monday.
Federal Medical Center Fort Worth has seen COVID-19 cases explode in number in recent weeks.
As of Monday, 636 inmates at FMC Fort Worth had contracted the coronavirus, according to Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley.
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That’s about 40% of the inmate population at the federal prison.
Several staff members have also tested positive for the virus, according to a union leader.
New white tents constructed on FMC Fort Worth's campus were visible from NBC 5’s Texas Sky Ranger.
“Those are medical tents,” union leader Gregory Watts wrote in a text message.
The tents are in addition to tan tents previously constructed to house inmates recovering from COVID-19 who are no longer showing symptoms.
The prison houses elderly inmates and those with challenging health conditions.
Six staff members have contracted COVID-19, according to Watts. One staff member has fully recovered, he said.
Families of prisoners have expressed frustration at the prison’s response to the pandemic.
“My husband did test positive for COVID-19,” said a woman who asked to only be identified as Sarah.
She said her husband, who is serving a federal prison sentence for drug trafficking and gun charges, recovered without needing hospitalization.
She said he was given Tylenol and housed with other inmates who also tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We’re completely terrified as to how they’re [the prison] handling this,” she said. “They’re still humans. They’re not animals.”
Judge Whitley said he’s concerned about the situation unfolding at the prison.
“I’m very concerned, because here’s the thing. Even though the prisoners are certainly confined to that space, you have guards and staff folks who go home after their shifts,” Whitley said.
Whitley said about 90 out of about 320 staff members have been tested so far.
“In my mind, certainly all the staff should be tested,” he said.
Whitley said he would like everyone to be tested, both staff and inmates.
A team of health experts planned to visit the prison to assess protocols in place and form possible recommendations, Whitley added.
“That team is made up of some folks from JPS, from our public health department, Bureau of Prisons, as well as UNT Health Sciences and hopefully they’ll come back with a plan that will help us get that more under control,” he said.
Recommendations could also call for testing of inmates and employees, but Whitley said any plan would need to be approved by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases has been noticeably different between the Federal Bureau of Prisons count and Tarrant County number.
The Federal BOP’s website, which is regularly updated, showed 624 inmates and one staff member with COVID-19.
“Our team is out there this afternoon. They’ll come back with a more accurate count, but we have to do something to get regular numbers every day,” Whitley said.
One unit at FMC Fort Worth called the "San Antonio Unit" houses about 240 people, 200 of which tested positive for COVID-19, according to Whitley.
He said out of 80 people being treated at JPS hospital for COVID-19 last week, half were inmates from FMC Fort Worth.
“If they all end up in the hospital, we’d have a problem,” said Whitley, though he said there was no immediate concern over hospital bed capacity.
Tarrant County has about 2,200 hospital beds available.