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TCSO Continues COVID-19 Preventative Measures Within its Jails


TCSO Continues COVID-19 Preventative Measures Within its Jails

Since February of 2020, TCSO has implemented some of the most proactive and effective efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within its jails, in the entire state of Texas. The result has been exceptionally low numbers of infected inmates and over 10 months of a COVID-19 negative general population. Implementing and sticking to stringent protocols has been key to the success and has required the efforts of every employee, from corrections officers, to medical personnel, to civilian staff.

In March of 2020, a three-tiered isolation approach was conceived by TCSO and approved by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. This procedure is a line of defense, designed to eliminate the introduction of COVID-19 into the general population to the highest degree possible. TCSO’s efforts have been aided by a reduced inmate population and by the design of its downtown Travis County Jail (TCJ) facility. The building not only has a large number of isolation cells, it is also equipped with an air flow system that doesn’t recirculate air.

The three-tiered approach for isolating inmates who have the virus or might unknowingly have it has been publicized weekly by TCSO since April of 2020. (continued..)

Quarantine houses inmates who are experiencing virus-like illness symptoms. About 1/3 of them have no symptoms and are in quarantine because they either refused to answer CDC guideline questions or answered yes to all CDC guideline questions on intake. They’re housed in quarantine until cleared by our medical staff. Quarantine is on a separate floor from all other inmates. Each inmate is in a single-occupancy cell and is seen twice a day by medical professionals.

Quarantine – Confirmed Positive houses only those inmates who have tested positive for the virus. The inmates are housed in single-occupancy cells and are seen twice a day by medical professionals.

Isolation: ALL newly booked, (healthy) inmates are held in single-occupancy cells for the first 10-14 days as another layer of protection to keep COVID-19 from entering our general population. If an inmate doesn’t show symptoms within that 10-14 day time period, our medical staff is more confident that it’s safe to introduce that person into the general population. We implemented this process on March 30th with approval from Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Inmates from general population who test positive for COVID-19 are immediately housed in the Quarantine-Confirmed Positive unit. TCSO’s medical team consists of a physician, 6 mid-level providers, 32 RNs, 17 LVNs, and 2 CNAs along with contract nursing staff. These professionals attend to the needs of inmates 24 hours a day.

Working in constant collaboration with Austin Public Health, TCSO closely monitors the health of its inmate population. COVID-19 testing is done at the discretion of treating physicians. In an effort to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to inmates who meet the 1B criteria, defined by the State of Texas, TCSO is actively seeking to acquire doses of the vaccine from state and local authorities.

On January 23rd, an inmate worker, assigned to the kitchen, tested positive for COVID-19. The housing unit for kitchen workers has been quarantined, and a professional cleaning company was brought in to sanitize the kitchen. The kitchen is currently at minimal operational status and sandwich meals are being distributed to the inmate population. An emergency menu is currently in effect to protect inmate safety and ease the impact of the loss of kitchen staff. The menu was developed and approved by a licensed dietician and was also approved by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. It consists of breakfast items such as cereal, fruit, peanut butter, danish pastry and milk. Lunch and dinner include, various deli meats (turkey, salami, ham), cheese, peanut butter, chips, fruit, carrots, cookies and applesauce. The regular hot meal menu will return as soon as TCSO is able to staff the kitchen at full capacity.

All inmates, including those who have tested positive, are given the opportunity to shower daily. They are allowed access to the day room on a tightly regimented, socially distanced rotation. While in the day room, they may use the phone, shower and watch television. They’re also provided with tablets in their cells that give them access to health and wellness information, legal resources, phone, commissary, medical appointments, religious services and more.

“The health and safety of our inmate population is our highest priority at both of our jail facilities. Health issues in the Travis County community are reflected in our jail community as well. As much as we hoped we could prevent COVID from ever touching our inmate general population, we couldn’t ever make our jail impenetrable to the virus. I’m very proud of the work our employees are doing every day to do battle against it. We have been so fortunate not to have experienced the devastation other jails and prisons across Texas have endured. I believe this is a call to action for all of us to continue to do what we know works, so we can protect our community. Social distancing, wearing masks, frequent hand washing and proper sanitation are steps we all must diligently be doing. We at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office will continue our efforts to protect both the inmate population and our employees from infection.” -Sheriff Sally Hernandez
Submitted By: Kristen Dark, Sr. Public Information Officer (512) 854-4986

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