State moves in to test GC inmates

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt addresses county commissioners Tuesday about the number of COVID-19 positive jail inmates and staff [Jerrie Whiteley / Herald Democrat}

Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt told county commissioners Tuesday that at least 27 more inmates and seven corrections staff have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus at the Grayson County Jail.

Watt said the state is onsite today helping the GC Jail staff continue to test both inmates and staff at the jail. Capt. Sarah Bigham said they tested 121 inmates and 33 staff on Saturday and expect more than 200 tests to be conducted in the next few days. Then they will be in a wait and see situation while they await the results of those tests.

Watt said the loss of those seven corrections staff along with the fact that that they had six unfilled spots to begin with leaves them in place where they can't really open the low risk facility back up to isolate those who have tested positive for the virus.

He said part of the problem is that that the state prison system stopped taking inmates from the county jails when the COVID-19 situation started. That means people who have been sentenced to prison stayed in the county jail. He said the jail currently has 70 such inmates. That means that they have a population on Tuesday of 373 instead of the 303 that they should have at this time.

“We were planning on opening the LRDC (Low Risk Detention Center) today. The latest round of testing tells us that we can not do that,” he said.

He said he has seven staff members who have tested positive for the virus and six vacancies. He also has three brand new staff members who have not been there long enough to be counted as staff.

That all adds up, he said, to not having enough staff even to move the sick or potentially sick folks out to the LRDC to get them separated from the folks they are trying to keep from getting sick because it would not allow for the proper guard to inmate ratio.

He said if they only had the 303 that are actually county inmates, he might be able to move everyone who is not sick to the outer areas of the jail allowing for some isolation of those who are sick but with the state’s inmates still in the jail that is not possible.

“So as we move forward, we have 12 or or 13 field deputies who have their detention license so we will be moving them into the jail to support our jail staff,” Watt said.

Watt said there are COVID-19 cases in two pods at the jail. He said his office is working with the County’s Office of Emergency Management and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

“They are working with us,” he said of TCJS. He said they had cleared it for the county to move the sick inmates to the LRDC, but that plan fell through when they had so many staff end up testing positive for the virus. He said he has officers who are willing to work sick but they just can’t allow that.

After the meeting, GCSO Capt. Sarah Bigham said they are lucky that all seven of the GCSO staff who are sick are not on the same shift. Each shift, she requires about 25 people at the jail.

“We are doing the additional testing todday to see where we are. Once we get those tests results, we can see what we need to do next to try and keep the sick people as isolated as possible.”

She said they know that the tests they are doing today are just a snap shot in time because people are constantly coming and going from the jail.

“We are still going to be monitoring people for symptoms, we have onsite medical staff that’s here 24/7 and they’re taking care of our inmates and our officers are taking care of our inmates and our officers are taking care of each other to make sure that we try to limit the amount of exposure that we have. We are cleaning multiple times a day. The inmates have been issued masks, our officers are wearing masks, anyone who comes into the jail is wearing a mask.”

She said jail staff have personal protective equipment to use when dealing with those who are sick.

A lack of supplies is not a problem at this point she said. She said the state is training the jail medical staff in how to do the tests at the jail. But they will still have to wait for the test to be processed. While they wait for that to happen, she said, they have to have a way to isolate those people in the jail.

Unfortunately, she said, they don’have any reserve officers to call in to help with this process and they have to maintane a 1 to 48 ratio between guards to inmates.

They are also trying to be able to give their staff time off to recuperate and that is why they are calling the patrol deputies who are cross certified back into the jail. She said even though there aren’t any reserve deputies for patrol, the other law enforcement agencies in the county know the situation the county is facing and are stepping up to help where they can.