Criminal Justice

The First Harris County Jail Inmate With COVID-19 Has Died

The man was between 50 and 60 years old, had preexisting conditions, and had been hospitalized for several weeks, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said.

Harris County Jail. Taken March 18, 2020.

An inmate in the Harris County Jail who had tested positive for COVID-19 has died, marking the first coronavirus-related death connected with the jail. The news was confirmed by a spokesman with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday.

Doctors confirmed the death Wednesday morning. The man was between 50 and 60 years old, had preexisting conditions, and had been hospitalized for several weeks, according to sheriff’s spokesman Jason Spencer.

He was booked into the Harris County Jail “several months ago” on an undisclosed felony charge, Spencer said.

The man is the first person to die from the coronavirus in the jail. The sheriff’s office was withholding the person’s identity in compliance with HIPAA regulations.

People watching the jails have been worried about a death inside the system for weeks. The sheriff’s office says it has put in place procedures to keep inmates as separated as possible, and has increased testing to focus on both symptomatic and asymptomatic people who may have been exposed to the virus. There have now been 1,115 tests of inmates, Spencer said.

Dr. Marc Robinson, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine who treats inmates in the jail, said jails are breeding grounds for disease, because inmates are constantly interacting in close quarters, while inmates and staff members are coming in and out of the facility, coming into contact both with people in the outside world and in the jail.

“You’re constantly having inoculation from the community, and you’re constantly releasing (people) back into the community,” Robinson said.

There have now been 601 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Harris County Jail. Of those, 14 are hospitalized, 92 are asymptomatic, and 249 are in recovery, according to the sheriff’s office. Forty-six inmates are awaiting results, and 478 have tested negative. 

There have been 256 sheriff’s office employees who have tested positive for the virus, 229 of whom work in the jail. An additional 402 are in quarantine for possible exposure, and 12 are currently hospitalized, the sheriff’s office confirmed Wednesday.

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Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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