COVID

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is gearing up for a massive COVID-19 testing initiative, involving practically every inmate and every officer in the state – a total of more than 150,000 people – sources told the Herald-Press Monday. Testing should occur over the next three weeks.

“I think this is the best possible outcome,” Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston told the Herald-Press Monday.

Local officials, including Mayor Steve Presley, have criticized the COVID-19 testing policies of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, calling for more widespread testing of prison staff and inmates. Most of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Anderson County have been connected to local prisons.

Anderson County now has 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Johnston said Monday.

The Texas state prison system, the nation's first or second largest, holds roughly 140,000 inmates and employs more than 30,000 people.

TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel said Monday not all prisoners are now tested prior to release.

Prisoners who are symptomatic for COVID-19 are tested. Some “high risk” prisoners also have undergone targeted testing, Desel said. Moreover, all prisoners who are being released are put in medical restriction before they return to the community.

On Monday, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported 62 Beto inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus, with another 2,349 Beto prisoners on medical restriction. To help limit the spread of COVID-19, prisoners on medical restriction are separated from the general population because they may have been exposed to the virus.

Systemwide, more than 1,000 prisoners have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 20,000 have been placed on medical restriction, TDCJ reported Monday.

Over the last month, Beto, which holds more than 3,000 prisoners, has reported the highest, or one of the highest, number of positive cases for the coronavirus in the Texas prison system.

Corrections officers Monday told the Herald-Press that 70 percent of the inmates tested at Beto have tested positive for the coronavirus. They also reported some prisoners are not wearing face masks and restrooms and dining areas lack soap.

Throughout most of the pandemic, Texas has ranked at, or near, the bottom among states for coronavirus testing. But the widespread testing initiative planned for the state's prison system suggests Texas has vastly increased its testing supply.

The Herald-Press editorial page has urged the state to ramp up prison testing, and to become far more aggressive in obtaining testing supplies from the federal government.

Gov. Greg Abbott said last month he expected a massive amount of additional testing capability by May.

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