AUSTIN (KXAN) – There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Travis County jails, as of Thursday, and the Sheriff’s Office is taking extra precautions to protect against the spread of the virus, according to an office spokesperson.

The Sheriff’s Office has put new processes in place to screen and isolate inmates with possible symptoms of the virus.

To date, three inmates with possible symptoms have been isolated for observation. Two of those inmates have been cleared and one remains in isolation, according to a Sheriff’s Office statement released Thursday.

KXAN received several emails this week indicating inmates in Travis County jail had tested positive for coronavirus; however, that is false, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“COVID-19 is certainly on the minds of all inside our jail facilities and keeping a clean, sterile environment is something our staff is even more committed to,” it wrote to KXAN. “Sanitization of Central Booking is occurring 3 times a shift. This includes all flat surfaces and common touchpoints. Hand Sanitizer is available to all at the entrance and throughout the facility and a sink has been installed in the sally port so anyone may wash their hands when entering or exiting the building,”

The Sheriff’s Office is taking the following steps in its jails:

  • Screening everyone entering the facility for fever
  • Questioning incoming arrestees on health
  • Isolating anyone suspected of having symptoms of COVID-19
  • Housing isolated inmates in negative airflow cells away from the general population

County jails trying to lower jail populations

Several Central Texas counties are also taking measures to lower their jail population to cut down the risk of spreading COVID-19. The district attorney for Burnet, Llano, Blanco and San Saba Counties, Sonny McAfee, said his office is looking at all jail cases to see which defendants might be appropriate for personal recognizance bonds.

McAfee said district court judges have granted some PR bonds in appropriate cases. Judges are reviewing each case with input from probation, and placing specific conditions on the bond when appropriate.

“We’re also examining jail cases for potential negotiations to resolve the cases,” said McAfee.

There are currently 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin and Travis County.

Williamson County

Williamson County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Patricia Gutierrez said there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the jail, and no inmates have been isolated.

The jail is screening inmates upon entry, and individuals with any symptom of the virus are sent to a hospital until they are medically cleared, Gutierrez said in a written statement.

Inmates showing signs of the virus will be quarantined, according to Gutierrez.

“We have increased jail sanitation to include disinfecting surfaces in the jail.  We are monitoring everyone who enters the facility to include staff.  We check everyone’s temperature to ensure there is not fever. We have also taken precautions in our kitchen by mandating everyone to include staff wear a N95 respirator and nitrile gloves,” Gutierrez said.

Hays County

The Hays County Sheriff’s Office has suspended all non-law-enforcement visitors from its jail. Non-contact visits will be arranged for parole, probation, bondsmen and attorneys, and they will be screened. Magistration will be done by video, according to a county statement.

You can read the Hays County Sheriff’s Office full statement on jail procedures here.

Other new procedures include:

  • Taking arrestees to a hand-washing station upon entering the jail, and giving them hand sanitizer when it is available.
  • Arrestees showing COVID-19 symptoms are diverted to a hospital. If appropriate, the arresting officer will release the individual and get an arrest warrant. Otherwise the jail will accept the individual after his hospital release.
  • Limiting inmate movement out of jail and considering suspending some programs that allow inmates to exit the jail.
  • Random temperature checks
  • Increased cleaning

KXAN has asked the Hays County Health Department if any inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 or been isolated, and we will update this report when they respond.

Read KXAN’s full coverage of coronavirus here.