New wave of COVID at county jails

An inmates clothes are hanged to dry in his holding cell at Carrizalez-Rucker Detentioin Center in Brownsville.

Officials at Cameron County’s three jails have re-tested the entire inmate population, leading to the discovery of a new wave of positive cases.

The latest report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards — which updates positive case totals in jails across the state daily — showed that 138 Cameron County inmates have active positive COVID-19 cases.

The Cameron County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that 138 inmates tested positive during a second round of mass testing.

“We re-tested everybody again. Zero detainees are hospitalized as of right now,” said Chief Deputy Gus Reyna.

Last month, 398 inmates tested positive for the virus after officials requested assistance from the state to test every inmate in the county’s custody on July 1. This prompted a jail lockdown until the end of July, with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office working to facilitate the potential release of qualified inmates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the practice of social distancing inside jails and detention centers can be “limited.” Across the United States, attorneys, advocates, prison officials, and medical experts have warned that it is not possible to practice social distancing while incarcerated.

Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center inmates spend 3 hours a week in these outdoor holding cells.

The latest TCJS report indicated that 937 Cameron County inmates have been placed under quarantine. Twenty-one jailers have active positive cases and three are pending test results.

One inmate died after becoming infected, according to the TCJS report published Aug. 13. No custodial death report has been filed yet with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Last month, detention officer Edward Cantu passed away after a battle with COVID-19.

According to Reyna, quarantine is underway again. “It seems to be working because our numbers obviously went down,” he said.

“We’re not having court in person. We’re doing it through Zoom. That has helped a lot. Of course, we continue to check for fever, we continue to sanitize as much as possible, our inmates are given masks. Our officers are also given masks and gloves. We’re trying our very best to keep it under control.”

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com