Texas Prisons Expanding COVID-19 Testing of Inmates, Cases Expected to Increase ‘Dramatically'

State provides TDCJ with thousands of self-administered COVID-19 test kits

File photo of a Texas prison.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice

The 2019 novel coronavirus is continuing to move through jail populations in North Texas and around the state and that number is only expected to climb with expanded testing efforts announced Wednesday by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

According to information released Wednesday by the TDCJ, there are currently 1,095 inmates infected with COVID-19 at more than three dozen state facilities while more than 1,700 have tested positive since the onset of the pandemic.

There are also 652 employees and contract staffers who hvae tested positive for the infection, though it's not clear if they contracted the virus at work or elsewhere.

There have been 30 confirmed offender deaths and 23 pending autopsy results; seven staff members have died from COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 91 employees and 371 offenders have medically recovered from the virus.

The TDCJ said Wednesday 19,214 offenders are on medical restriction because they may have had contact with either an employee or offender with a positive or pending COVID-19 test.

The TDCJ said this week they began expanded their testing program to include an oral fluid test that is self-administered by the person being tested.

“These tests are readily available and deployable,” said Bryan Collier TDCJ Executive Director. “Increasing the information available to our medical professionals will help us to further enhance the agency’s ability of stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The TDCJ said in the first few hours of testing 1,500 tests were administered and collected.

"Like has occurred in virtually every area where large scale asymptomatic testing has taken place TDCJ fully expects the number of positive offender cases to expand dramatically," the TDCJ said in a statement Wednesday. "The agency has a plan in place to medically restrict these new asymptomatic cases as needed."

It's not clear when the state will receive the results of the 1,500 tests recently administered.

Precautionary lockdowns are in effect at a number of state prisons, affecting 43,700 inmates, including: Baten, Beto, Boyd, Byrd, Clemens, Clements, Coffield, Cole, Darrington, Eastham, Ellis, Estelle, Fort Stockton, Garza West, Gist, Goree, Gurney, Hughes, Huntsville, Hutchins, Jester 1, Jester III, Jordan, Leblanc, Lychner, Michael, Middleton, Murray, Ney, Pack, Robertson, Sanchez, Scott, Smith, Stringfellow, Telford, Terrell, Woodman, Wynne. The precautionary lockdowns extend for 14 days from the date of a positive test. Those dates may be extended to the date of the most recent positive test.

At Federal Medical Center Fort Worth, a federal medical hospital in southeast Fort Worth, more staff members are expected to be offered testing for COVID-19. Tarrant County officials and the Bureau of Prisons confirmed this week more than 600 inmates at FMC Fort Worth have tested positive for COVID-19. The fifth inmate to die of the virus was reported on Sunday. The federal prison holds 1,467 inmates, according to the BOP.

Local County Jails Showing Rise in Cases, Quarantines

According to information released by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus continue to spread locally at county jails as well.

As of Wednesday, May 13, 58 inmates at the Tarrant County Jail are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 while another 132 are in quarantine for exposure. Three inmates are receiving treatment outside of the jail.

Among staffers in Tarrant County, 33 jailers have been confirmed to have contracted the virus and 57 are now being quarantined. The number quarantined jumped by 185% overnight, from 20 to 57.

As of Wednesday, May 13, 233 inmates at the Dallas County Jail are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 while another 824 are in quarantine for exposure. None of the inmates at the Dallas County Jail are requiring treatment offsite.

Among staffers in Dallas County, 47 jailers have been confirmed to have contracted the virus and 13 are being quarantined.

Statewide, there are 1,238 inmates of county jails confirmed to have contracted the virus. More than 5,000 inmates are being quarantined and 20 are being treated at offsite facilities. There are 342 jailers across the state who have been infected with the virus and 735 are quarantined.

One of the state's most populated county jails is in Harris County where 669 inmates have tested positive for the virus. Another 2,500 are in quarantine.

NBC 5's Don Peritz contributed to this report.

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