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Coronavirus Featured Justice

El Paso state jail COVID-19 outbreak mushrooms to 139 cases

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This story has been updated with numbers as of Wednesday, May 20.

At least 139 of El Paso County’s COVID-19 infections come from an outbreak at the Rogelio Sanchez State Jail in Far East El Paso, officials say.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reports that 124 inmates and 15 employees at the jail had tested positive at the jail as of Tuesday. The numbers have nearly quadrupled in two weeks as officials expanded testing at the jail.

TDCJ reports that 358 Sanchez inmates have tested negative for the virus. The agency said 145 inmates are on medical restriction, which means they were exposed to someone who tested positive so their movements are limited. Another 127 are in medical isolation, meaning they are sick and potentially contagious.

The Rogelio Sanchez State Jail can hold up to 1,100 inmates, all men, and employs 287 people, according to TDCJ. State jails hold people convicted of low-level nonviolent felonies and Class A misdemeanors. Most are first-time offenders.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the El Paso city-county health authority, said earlier this month that two detention facilities have reported COVID-19 cases. He refused to identify them.

City spokeswoman Laura Cruz-Acosta said it’s health department policy not to release names of entities, whether it is where patients get admitted or Health Department investigates. We release as much information as possible to keep the public informed but at the same time keep confidentiality of all parties involved.”

The second detention facility with a single positive COVID-19 case likely is the El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department facility. Officials announced last month that a youth detained at the facility on Delta Drive had tested positive for COVID-19. 

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said no inmates at the county jails have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.

“But we are not turning away any arrestees so the possibility is certainly there. However, to prevent any spread, every new inmate is being isolated for 14 days,” Wiles said.

Twelve detainees and one employee at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s El Paso Processing Center had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, but those numbers aren’t included in El Paso’s numbers because the tests and treatment are overseen by federal health officials.

In Chaparral, N.M., just north of the El Paso County line, 121 inmates and detainees and at least six employees at a private prison facility have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. He spent most of his career at the El Paso Times, serving in a variety of leadership roles. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including Pulitzer Prize finalist, the Burl Osborne award for editorial leadership, the James Madison Award from the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, the Jack Douglas Award from Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Frank W. Mayborn Award for Community Leadership from the Texas Press Association. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award from the National Press Association. As a freelance journalist, Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on the border by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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