Increased testing leads to drastic decrease in COVID-19 cases at Nacogdoches County Jail

Increased testing leads to drastic decrease in COVID-19 cases at Nacogdoches County Jail
Nacogdoches County jail sees spike in inmates and employees who are testing positive for COVID-19. (Source: KTRE)

NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - There is a serious battle law enforcement must fight every single minute of every day. It remains the threat of COVID-19 entering jails.

Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges does not want an invisible repeat offender known as COVID-19 in his jail. He presented the message to listeners of the Nacogdoches Chamber Stakeholders Conference Call, held each week to update the community on the impact of COVID-19.

“In July we know we had two known (cases), and then it spread through the jail. We had over 100 at one time. Had up to 16 employees out,” recalled Bridges.

Bridges says in 6-weeks time the rate was down to zero. Today one staff member and possibly one inmate have the virus. New protocols are working.

“Testing. That really helped us,” said Bridges. “We contracted with a lab out of Tyler. We are getting those test results sometimes the same day.”

For now, federal funding pays for the $95 test. No routine testing schedule is in place. Instead, controlled segregation is followed.

Before a potential inmate even enters the jail, screening begins.

“We test incomings. With new incoming inmates coming in we try to house them by themselves until that dorm fills up and then we house them for another two weeks before we move them in the rest of the jail to make sure they’re clear of the coronavirus.”

The goal is to keep any positive case from entering cell dorms where 24 inmates at a time live. Once in a cell, masks and social distancing are rarely observed.

“It’s impossible to do. And that’s the reason we do our best to keep COVID out of the jail because if it gets in here and gets in a dorm, then it’s going to spread fast.”

At stake is the health of up to 292 inmates, plus staff. Some arrests are curtailed.

“We’ve asked officers in low minor offenses instead of bringing them to jail, if you can issue them a summons to county court.”

Bridges says he places less importance on jail population. Instead, he concentrates moreso on the control of an unseen virus.

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