Local jail’s streak is broken after staffers--not inmates--test positive for COVID-19

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 4:09 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The new coronavirus has started popping-up at the McLennan County Jail.

As of Tuesday, the jail has had 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since a contract kitchen worker tested positive last week, according to officials who said none of them were inmates.

"We reached out to health department (after the initial case)," said Maj. Ricky Armstrong, Jail Administrator.  "The health department decided it was time to test all staff."

On Friday, a mass testing was administered to, not just the jail, but the entire McLennan County Sheriff's Office (including contract employees, building maintenance workers, etc.).

Of the 545 MCSO employees tested, 377 were jail staff.

"22 members have tested positive, 82 were negative, but we're still waiting on the rest of the results," Armstrong told KWTX Tuesday evening.

Of the 22 cases, the vast majority of were jailers but, besides the kitchen worker, several nurses also tested positive for the virus, officials said.

"You do the best you can to keep the jail clean and disinfected, you ask your staff to be extra cautious when out in the public and you also ask them to stay home and wear masks when they can't stay home," said Armstrong.  "We were hoping we wouldn't get a case, but in reality, I thought we probably would eventually."

The jail had been preparing for COVID-19 since March by putting measures in place to limit the spread of the virus including extra cleaning and sanitization, health checks for inmates, and putting a pause on in-person visitations.

"We're going to do everything possible to limit the spread of the coronavirus within our facility," said Armstrong.

Now that they have confirmed cases, additional steps are being taken to stop the spread.

"We're limiting all movement within the jail and requiring anyone who enters to wear a mask," said Armstrong.  "We will also quarantine the inmates if any get positive results to limit the spread."

Armstrong expects inmates will be tested in the near future--having the virus reach the inmate population is their "worst case scenario", he says, but they're prepared for it.

 "If we have inmates test positive, we have areas set up to move them to and quarantine and start medical treatment," said Armstrong.  

Since some medical staff at the jail had tested positive,  during Tuesday morning's Commissioner's Court meeting, MCSO leaders asked more nurses, "just in case," Armstrong said.

"For precautionary reasons, we asked the court to hire Agency Nursing to staff our jail in case the need arises," he said.  "We have to continue giving medical care to the inmates in our jail."

Staffing, Armstrong says, is his biggest concern and challenge moving forward.

He had a virtual meeting with all jail command staff Tuesday afternoon to work on a contingency plan if they continue to get more infected officers.

“We’re getting approximately 50 tests back a day, we can’t wait to get them back so we can move forward with our planning,” said Armstrong.  “I hope those numbers stay low.”

Copyright 2020 KWTX. All rights reserved.

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