HOUSTON — Editor's note: The attached video originally aired on April 7.
The number of Harris County Jail employees and inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to rise.
The number of HCSO employees with positive tests reached 151 Tuesday and most of them work at the Harris County Jail.
Another 368 Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputies, detention officers and support staff are on quarantine for possible COVID-19 exposure.
Ninety-nine inmates in the jail have tested positive for COVID-19 and 45 more are in quarantine.
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There are about 7,500 inmates in the jail and most of them are awaiting trial and haven't been convicted, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
"People forget that they're innocent until proven guilty. They have families. We have families," Gonzalez said.
United Memorial Medical Center has volunteered to help expand testing inside the jail for employees and inmates, Gonzalez and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee announced Tuesday.
“I’m trying to stop a major outbreak within our jail system because, guess what, those individuals will need to transferred into that public health system for care," Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Tuesday. "Well that’s going to take away valuable space that could’ve been used by a senior or someone in the free world in the community."
The sheriff’s office said it is working with Harris County Public Health to identify other employees, other inmates and members of the public who may have had close contact with the diagnosed workers and inmates.
HCSO says it has implemented the following measures to slow the spread of COVID-19:
- All jail employees have been issued protective masks and are instructed to wear them while on duty.
- All inmates have also been issued masks.
- Regular temperature checks are performed daily on all employees as they report for duty
- Early isolation of arrestees with COVID-19 symptoms entering the jail at intake
- Masking all arrestees at the Joint Processing Center jail intake
- 7-day “buffer isolation” of all new inmates prior to releasing to general population
- Social distancing of inmates (as much as possible), detention staff, and medical staff, even in break rooms
- Increased availability of soap, water, and hand sanitizer
- Increased frequency of facility sanitization efforts
- Increased cleaning supplies provided for inmate use
- Inmate education at the Joint Processing Center screening on mask wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing
- Suspended fees for inmate sick call requests
- Aggressive quarantining of a tank when an inmate is moved to isolation for COVID 19 symptoms
- Daily temperature screenings of worker inmates prior to leaving their tanks
Examining ways to reduce inmate movement
- Replacing live meetings to conference calls
- Holding court hearings via video
- Implementing video inmate visitation
- Temperature screening all inmates released from jail
- Homeless screening all inmates leaving jail for hotel or shelter placement
- Screening homeless inmates with COVID-19 symptoms and placing them COVID-19 hotels
- Advising all inmates to go home and self-quarantine for 14 days after they leave jail
- All inmates are wearing masks upon jail discharge and have COVID-19 discharge instructions and resources