The number of Gregg County Jail inmates with COVID-19 has steadily grown this month, with County Judge Bill Stoudt attributing the increased infections in the facility to internal spread as well as from new inmates or even staff members.
The facility housed 46 infected inmates as of Wednesday, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District, known as NET Health. Also, 13 Gregg County jailers had COVID-19 as of Wednesday, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards reported.
On Nov. 25, Gregg County reported five positive inmates, and that total had doubled by Dec. 2. By Dec. 7, positive cases jumped to 23 and to 32 the next day. By Dec. 11, 40 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19.
As of the Dec. 1 jail commission population report, Gregg County housed 654 inmates. The jail’s total capacity is 916.
“It’s not affecting us as bad, and we want to provide the best care for our patients, inmates,” said Gregg County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Josh Tubb. “We just want the community to continue to send the best wishes, prayers and thoughts to our inmates with COVID-19 and staff.”
The Gregg County Jail has a medical team on staff with nurses and other medical personnel.
Stoudt said having a doctor on staff has helped tremendously through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got protocols in place and that were put in place when this thing first started about 10 months ago,” Stoudt said. “We’ve got our medical infirmary at the jail, so it’s easier to treat them here.”
Inmates positive for COVID-19 are separated from the rest of the jail population and are in the care of a full-time doctor on staff.
Infected inmates are being housed on the third floor of the North Jail, Tubb said, which is a change from the jail’s original plan.
“When we first started, Smith and Gregg (counties) joined forces to use the Marvin A. Smith Center (near Kilgore),” Stoudt said. “That became the place where they would send inmates.”
However, minimum security inmates now are housed at the Marvin A. Smith Center, and it is not used as a medical facility, Tubb said Wednesday.
With staff being out sick or quarantined, it has posed some staffing issues for jailers, officials said.
Stoudt said the sheriff’s office has been moving staff around to meet needs.
“We’re following the same protocols that we’re telling the public to follow,” he said.
Tubb added that it is in the best interest of the staff to ensure that protocols are followed for inmate safety and their own.
“One of the things family of incarcerated inmates worry about is safety, and I tell them that our people are in there with the inmates, and it’s in our best interest to follow strict protocols,” he said. “It’s in our favor as well. Some worry that because they’re inmates that we don’t care, but we are charged with their care, and we take it seriously.”
Tubb said the jail facilities are doing everything they can to try to minimize virus exposure. The jail is on a strict schedule to be sanitized every two hours, uses food-safe chemicals are used to clean in the kitchen.
“All arrestees are checked by medical staff before they come into the jail along with the officers,” Tubb said. “Every person is screened when they come in.”
New inmates also quarantined before joining the general population, he added.
“We are trying to keep the inmates as safe as possible,” Stoudt said. “(We’re) looking forward to the day the vaccine will be available to take it.”
Smith County reported 21 inmates with positive tests Wednesday as well as 112 quarantined inmates. Twelve Smith County jailers were positive for the virus and seven in quarantine.
As of Dec. 1, Smith County housed 1,031 inmates with a capacity of 1,149, according to the jail commission.