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Coronavirus Featured Justice

COVID-19 cases spiking again at El Paso County jails

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El Paso County’s two jails are experiencing another wave of COVID-19 cases, with 30 inmates and five detention officers having current active cases as of Wednesday, state records show.

The jails had reported nine active cases among inmates and two among detention officers a week earlier. The growth in jail cases comes as El Paso is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 cases. Sheriff Richard Wiles said the spike in COVID-19 cases at the jail is a result of people infected with the virus being arrested and then booked.

Sheriff Richard Wiles

“Because of the increases we’ve seen in the general public, we are seeing increases in COVID cases among arrestees coming into the jail,” Wiles said. “All arrestees that are not able to bond out or be released are separated until day four, when they are tested. If negative, they go into the jail population. If positive, they remain separated.”

El Paso reported 523 new positive COVID-19 tests on Wednesday, by far the highest one day count during the pandemic.

The family of one inmate who tested positive this week said he’s been jailed for several weeks, which indicates he was infected at the jail, not in the community.

“So how do they explain COVID cases among detainees like my brother who have been in general population for a month?” said a woman who asked that she and her brother not be identified to protect his privacy.

Wiles said inmates with COVID-19 have access to medical care in jail.

“They are checked every 30 to 60 minutes depending on their status. And, we are able to isolate them to prevent them from spreading it to others. I think that, overall, we’ve done a decent job keeping the numbers down,” he said.

The first wave of COVID-19 infections at the jail came in late June and early July, as the novel coronavirus tore through El Paso. One inmate died in that wave.

Wiles said the jail had a total of 401 inmates and 80 detention officers who tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sept. 21. That number would not include most of the current active cases at the jail. The Sheriff’s Department mass tests all inmates and jailers, he said.

Another large El Paso detention facility, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement El Paso Service Processing Center, also is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The other large detention facility in El Paso, the Rogelio Sanchez State Jail, reported no active cases among inmates and 10 cases among employees as of Thursday.

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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. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. 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 border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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