AUSTIN (KXAN) — Inmates now have to wear a mask inside the Williamson County Jail as coronavirus cases rise inside the complex.
“There’s an infectious disease inside of a big brick building — box — and we can’t really run from it,” said one inmate named Trey Horn.
As of Friday, 13 inmates and nine jail staff have tested positive, according to a spokesperson for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office. Just two days ago, only six jail staff had confirmed cases of COVID-19.
She said one deputy had also tested positive.
“So, the concern is that the number is going up in that short amount of time,” Horn said.
Several family members reached out to KXAN this week, concerned about conditions inside the jail and hearing rumors that several people were sick. At the time, they said masks were only available for purchase through commissary for $2, but their loved ones were reporting it took several days for those masks to arrive.
Just a day after KXAN investigators started asking the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office questions, the mask policy changed.
According to the spokesperson, now all inmates will be issued a mask upon arrival at the jail and be required to wear it anytime they are within the six feet of another person.
The spokesperson noted previously, only staff were required to wear masks “at all times within the jail.”
Intake officers wear face shields, gloves and masks in the quarantine section of the jail, while maintenance personnel working in COVID-positive areas wear additional protective suits. Working inmates, called “trustys,” were already provided masks for when they were working.
“A week ago, they took away our rec-yard time, which is our time to go outside and get fresh air,” Horn said. “We can get away from something we can’t really control. We can’t see it. We can’t smell it. We can’t… it’s in the air, you know?”
He previously worked in the HVAC industry and has concerns about how germs and air particles are spreading through the ventilation system inside the complex.
But the spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said, “Our ventilation systems have fresh air insertion systems, high efficiency pleated air filters and the ventilation systems are integrated with fire evacuations systems within the jail.”
She said they were also in process of adding UV lights to the ventilation system to help slow the spread of the virus.
The current Williamson County Jail population is 423. The full capacity is 1,163.
According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Hays County Jail is reporting one inmate with an active coronavirus case, but six inmates are pending the results of their tests. The Travis County jail is reporting seven positive cases, with six inmates pending test results.