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McLennan County Jail starts testing inmates for COVID-19

Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 2:30 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2020 at 1:57 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - COVID-19 testing began Thursday for inmates in Waco.

The McLennan County Jail started administering the tests at its Highway 6 facility almost a week after a mass testing of all McLennan County Sheriff's Office employees which was launched because a contract kitchen worker had tested positive for the virus.

As of Thursday, 36 MCSO employees had tested positive for the virus, 104 had tested negative and 415 tests were still pending.

The 36 positive cases included 26 jailers, seven medical staffers, two patrol officers and the kitchen worker, officials reported.

Although authorities believed the virus was initially contracted outside jail walls, they felt further testing was necessary to see if it had spread to the inmate population, and, if so, to limit the spread.

Between the Highway 6 jail and neighboring Jack Harwell Detention Center, with a population hovering around 1,100, there's about twice as many inmates incarcerated as there are MCSO employees.

About 500 of the inmates were tested Thursday and officials hoped to wrap it up and have every inmate swabbed by the end of the day Friday.

The jail administrator, Major Ricky Armstrong, says part of their mission statement is making sure the community, staff, and the inmates are taken care of.

"The McLennan County Jail's mission is to protect and serve our community by securing those incarcerated in a clean and safe environment," said Armstrong. "Our professional staff will be dedicated to ensure that each individual is treated with respect, humility, compassion and integrity without prejudice or favor."

"I believe our mission statement says it all--we're going to do everything we can to protect and serve our community," he said.

Armstrong says staffing is their biggest concern right now; as a result, extra precautions are being taken.

In addition to mandated face masks, all jail employees must have their temperature taken from their vehicles and be cleared before entering the facility.

"The worst case is we get more cases of officers with COVID, and the really worst case is we start getting some inmates that test positive," said Armstrong.

However, if inmates do test positive, Armstrong says they are prepared.

“We’re working on the those plans, and we’ve been working on these plans since March,” said Armstrong. “We were hoping we didn’t have to implement them, but now we’re really buckling down and working to the finer details of how that plan will work.”

What you need to know about the new coronavirus and its impact on Central Texas.

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