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Texas Governor Suspends Visits at County And Municipal Jails

Kathleen Creedon | Texas Public Radio

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued the executive order regarding in-person visits on Friday.

The restriction does not apply to visits by an attorneys meeting with clients or visits by religious leaders.

A statement from his office explained that the new order expanded the state's response to the outbreak.

"The Governor previously directed state prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities to restrict visitation upon issuing his COVID-19 disaster declaration," the statement said. "This executive order adds another layer of defense to contain COVID-19 hot spots, prevent community spread, and protect staff and inmates."

The statement added, "Jails have shown to be highly susceptible to COVID-19 surges which is why we are focused on containing any potential hot spots and preventing spread both within jails and the community."

COVID-19 posed a serious challenge to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, which fought for weeks to curb its spread in the county jail.

Temperature checks, new medical facilities, policy changes and even a new partnership with a civil rights group were among the ways the jail confronted the threat.

Jails pose a significant challenge during the coronavirus era because they are places with limited space, where inmates are often closely confined, so observing social distancing — the highest mitigation factor — was incredibly difficult.

However, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar recently reported COVID-19 positive cases at the jail were dropping and recoveries continue to climb.

“We have now reached the point our number of recovered inmates far outweighs what we have currently positive," he reported at a press conference on May 21.

About 240 inmates have recovered and more than 2,000 of the 3,000 inmates in the lockup have been tested. About two dozen deputies have tested positive.

Joey Palacios and Brian Kirkpatrick contributed to this report.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1