Officials responsible for the operation of Cameron County detention centers are taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus inside the facilities, according to Sheriff Omar Lucio.
The sheriff said in a phone call on Wednesday the department is working to follow policies and directives issued by the governor and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) as local and county officials respond to the unfolding impact of coronavirus in local communities.
Lucio said his staff was preparing to set up tent checkpoints at the entrance to each of the four jails and detention centers operated by the county intended to screen anyone entering the building for fever and others signs of illness.
“Anybody who comes in is going to have to be screened, including deputies and officers, to make sure we’re keeping everybody safe,” Lucio said. County detention facilities are not currently allowing visitors inside in accordance with a memorandum issued by TCJS on March 13.
An inmate screening form posted by the commission on Facebook asks incoming inmates whether they’ve traveled to a country or a U.S. state with community transmission of COVID-19 within the last 14 days.
Inmates are also asked whether they’ve been in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days, and whether the inmate has had symptoms including fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, cough, shortness of breath, or other lower respiratory symptoms.
An additional memorandum issued by the commission on March 17 requires that anybody entering facilities be screened, including staff screening at the beginning of each shift. The memorandum limits the movement of inmates, requires the sanitation of all food service equipment, and mandates screenings for all inmate workers, “especially kitchen and laundry workers.”
The document recommends that officials consider conditions for releasing non-violent misdemeanor offenders in collaboration with local officials and suggests that facilities work with local arresting agencies to “cite and release” those who commit non-violent crimes in order to reduce the number of inmates in facilities.
Lucio said on Wednesday that the jails have installed hand sanitizing stations and is requiring everyone to wash their hands with warm water and soap, “constantly.” He said staff are wearing masks and gloves and that deputies are wiping down vehicles — especially steering wheels, handles, and other parts each time they enter the vehicle.
Asked whether inmates have been tested for coronavirus, Lucio said no, but explained that staff will likely be able to select inmates suspected to have the virus for testing by the heath department, as determined by the facility’s medical staff, as long as the testing resources are made available.
“Anybody that comes in, before they even go in, the medical that we have there double checks them for fever or any kind of other sickness. If that is the case, they send them to the hospital,” Lucio said of the inmates.
The department is also working to reduce the population of non-violent inmates in the jails by educating the public about the shelter in place order and curfew. “If somebody is out there after 12 o’ clock, we get the name, address, and the reason they’re out there. If someone does it a second time around, they might be cited and given a ticket. If someone does it again, they can be arrested,” he said.
“We’re trying to keep many people from coming into jail. These are moments we have to try to help the rest of the country and the county. Unless it’s necessary to arrest someone, they won’t arrest someone,” he said.
The Brownsville Police Department explained in a Facebook post on Wednesday that non-essential business includes establishments like schools for CDL driver licensing, barber shops, beauty supplies, tattoo parlors, massage parlors, bars with on-premises consumption that don’t serve food, nail salons, sole clothing retailers, and pet groomers.
Essential services include things like government, anything to do with food consumption, distribution or sales; hotels or extended stay facilities; vehicle parts, serves, and sales, and more.
“If you are unable to determine if your situation is covered by or addressed by the orders that have been issued, then please submit your inquiry be email to firstname.lastname@example.org , by phone to (956)356-6607,” the department wrote.