NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, Texas (KETK) – The Nacogdoches County Jail has its first confirmed case of an inmate with COVID-19.
Sheriff Jason Bridges made the announcement in a video post on Facebook.
Bridges said the male inmate has been in the jail since May 13 and is asymptomatic.
The inmate was tested, Bridges said, because a family member informed jail staff they had tested positive and suggested that the inmate might also be positive.
“So to that family member who came forward, you know who you are, thank you,” Bridges said in the video.
Once the test result returned positive, Bridges said, the inmate was immediately placed into isolation.
The news that one of his inmates has tested positive for COVID-19 is disappointing, but not unexpected, the sheriff said.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” he said. “We’ve spent a long time keeping it out with the protocols we have in place. But I did expect that at some point we’d have a case in the jail.”
Bridges said that his jail is “just not equipped” to handle inmates with the virus.
“We have an older jail, and we’re just not equipped for that,” he said.
He said he reached out to Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano, who has had several inmates and staff in his jail test positive.
The Gregg County Sheriff’s Office and Smith County Sheriff’s Office, which has had its own outbreak, have developed a joint operational system to house inmates at the Gregg County jail who test positive for the coronavirus.
The Marvin A. Smith facility in Gregg County has been designated as the quarantine location for inmates who test positive.
With Cerliano’s approval, the Nacogdoches County inmate has been transported to that facility. He will be housed there until he recovers.
“I’d like to thank Sheriff (Cerliano) for doing that for us,” Bridges said. “We only have so many isolation cells, and if we can move him to an area where we know just certain people with this virus are at, then that was our best choice.”
Bridges said he also has been in contact with the state and that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will be sending in a team to test all inmates and staff.
“We want to be able to identify all our inmates who have the coronavirus,” he said. “If we can identify them, then we can house them in certain areas to help stop the spread”
Another team will come in to help staff deep clean the jail, he said.
Bridges said the jail has been “very proactive” in preparing for and trying to prevent the arrival of COVID-19.
All new incoming inmates are housed in a special area apart from the general population, he said. When that area reaches a certain occupancy, it is placed under quarantine for 14 days before inmates are released into the general population.
The infected inmate had been in that area “with a certain number of other inmates,” Bridges said. “Hopefully those inmates have not been exposed to any other inmates in the jail.”
Bridges said the safety of the inmates, staff, and community “are our highest priority.”
Jail employees all wear masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We’ve preached that from the beginning (of the outbreak),” Bridges said.
“The first (concern) is for their safety, for our inmates’ safety, and to keep this from spreading out into the public,” he said.
The jail has a current population of 235, according to the website.