ANDERSON COUNTY, Texas (KETK) – After the number of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 reached triple digits at the Beto Unit in Anderson County, city officials looked for ways to slow the spread.
On Thursday, April 16, the Beto Unit reported that 118 inmates tested positive for the coronavirus. That number dropped immensely to 94 on Tuesday leading KETK to investigate the change in numbers.
A family member of one of the inmates told KETK that those who tested positive and had severe symptoms were being transported to UTMB in Galveston for treatment.
Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston said offenders are now being sent to the Stringfellow Unit in Brazoria County, which caused the number of cases in Beto to decrease.
While Texas prisons are not accepting new inmates from county jails, there are no rules against transferring within the state prison system.
But State Rep. Cody Harris says more needs to be done.
“State agencies are usually slow to respond to things and they are looking at 140 units across the whole state. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fast enough to contain the spread,” he explained.
While the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has implemented safety measures including masks and gloves for staff, some wonder if the spread of the virus could have been avoided if these measured had been put into place sooner.
Officials with the TDCJ responded in a statement:
“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice as always valued our ability to work with local leaders in all areas of state. Ultimately, it is the health and well being of all of the offenders in our care, employees who work tirelessly for the citizens, and the public safety of all areas of the great state of Texas, that TDCJ as an agency must take into account. All of the moving parts of a highly complicated system are being considered in all decisions. ”-Jeremy Desel, TDCJ
During a special city council meeting on Monday, Palestine officials expressed their frustration.
“It’s got to stop, they can’t just let it run through the whole system up there, but now there’s so many infected, I’m not sure what will happe. It’s very sad,” Mayor Steve Presley said.
Rep. Harris says his focus is on testing and making sure Beto employees have the option to be tested at work. He also says staff can call his office directly if they are having a difficult time getting PPE.
“They have to go to their own medical provider to get tested if they need one, they’re not at location, so I ask that that change,” he said.
As of Tuesday, the number of employees who tested positive for COVID-19 are 10. That’s doubled since Monday and was reported to be just one employee on Thursday, April 16.
“The only way for this type of virus to get inside a prison is if it’s brought inside the prison, and of course the most likely way that that would happen is from a correctional officer or other person coming into the facility,” said Jeremy Desel, with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Since the start of prison lockdowns across the state, TDCJ has implemented precautionary measures.
Any employee that works with a temperature over 100.4 will not be allowed in the unit, will be questioned, and required to see a doctor before returning.
For a breakdown of the cases in the Beto Unit each day, follow the original story: Number of COVID-19 inmates changing at Beto Unit in Anderson County.