HOUSTON - An inmate at the Harris County Jail has tested positive for COVID-19.
At least 30 inmates are now showing symptoms and another 500 were potentially exposed to the virus, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. All are currently in quarantine and being monitored.
HCSO said a 39-year-old man arrested two weeks ago on March 17 by Houston Police for a parole violation tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The inmate was placed on quarantine on March 26 after jail medical staff detected a fever and a high pulse rate during a standard health evaluation.
The man is currently in stable condition at the jail facility at 1200 Baker St.
So far, HCSO said five inmate tests have come back negative for COVID-19.
To prevent an outbreak at the jail, local leaders had previously said they were going to issue compassionate releases for some inmates.
However, on Sunday, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning the release of violent criminals from jails and prisons across the state.
"Releasing dangerous criminals makes the state even less safe and also complicates and slows our ability to respond to the disaster called COVID-19," Abbott said. Abbott emphasized the need to keep the state as safe as possible during the global pandemic. "We want to reduce and contain Covid-19 in jails and in prisons, for the benefit of both the inmates, as well as the law enforcement officers and employees and staff of those facilities," Abbott said.
The governor's executive order comes after Harris County Judge DaSean Jones released a murder suspect on bond earlier this month. The felon had apparently expressed he was scared of contracting COVID-19.
The move sparked controversy across the state, causing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to file an intervention to prevent the release of thousands of inmates across the state.
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said he was happy to see the governor issue guidelines for compassionate releases, but suggested that top public safety officials consider a new strategy in the event of an outbreak at the jail.
"We always knew it wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when. I also encourage that they strongly consider using ankle monitoring bracelets so that they may be released but they’re not going to be out of custody," Garcia said.
Garcia is also the former Harris County Sheriff. He says depopulating the jail is critical in maintaining the health and safety of inmates, staff and law enforcement at the jail.
"I don't want people to be confused that the first consideration is that charges are going to be dropped and these people aren't going to be held accountable, or anything of that nature. It's critical to recognize that we want to preserve public safety in Harris County," Garcia said.
The Harris County Judge and County Attorney's Office is currently reviewing the governor's executive order for clarification.
So far, five inmate tests have come back negative for the virus.
“The Harris County Sheriff’s Office medical staff and detention staff are taking every possible precaution to manage the spread of COVID-19 among our nearly 8,000 inmates,” said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Despite their heroic efforts, we know this insidious virus is nearly impossible to contain in a jail environment. I am in awe of the efforts of our team, and I remain especially concerned for the safety of those who show up for their shifts each day, knowing the risk to themselves and their families.”