- What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
COVID-19, or coronavirus disease 2019, is an upper respiratory tract disease caused by one of the seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. It was first identified in humans in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019. The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2.
- Who is at risk?
With community spread of the virus everyone is at risk. There is virtually no area in Texas that does not have some level of COVID-19 infection currently. Especially vulnerable are people in close contact with those who have COVID-19 and people who care for patients with COVID-19.
- What is community spread?
Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected. Each health department determines community spread differently based on local conditions. For information on community spread in your area, please visit https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/
- What are the symptoms?
Symptoms, which may appear two to 14 days after exposure, are wide ranging including fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, gastro-intestinal problems, and others. Most people who become sick do not require hospitalization, but older adults, people with chronic health conditions, and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to require more advanced care.
- How does it spread?
COVID-19 is believed to spread mainly from person-to-person -- between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
- What can I do to prevent it?
Taking common precautions including mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, and surface cleaning are great steps. So is getting any of the COVID-19 vaccines now available to many.
Clean high-touch areas – counters, tables, doorknobs, light switches, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, nightstands – every day using household cleaning spray or wipes according to label directions.
- Who is being vaccinated?
TDCJ is following the instruction of the Texas State Department of Health Services. Our correctional managed healthcare partners are distributing and administering the vaccines. We began by vaccinating healthcare workers in our units employed by those correctional managed healthcare partners. Next, correctional staff in close contact with inmates and those over 65 or with pre-existing conditions. Some inmates have also been vaccinated. Our goal is to vaccinate as many staff and inmates as possible as vaccines come available.
- Should I wear a face mask?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still advises people to wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people not living in your household and particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations. Cloth face coverings may slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.
COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and do not know that they are infected. That’s why it’s important for everyone to practice social distancing
(staying at least 6 feet away from other people) and wear cloth face coverings in public settings. Cloth face coverings provide an extra layer to help prevent the respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people.
- Does the TDCJ issue face masks?
Since April, the TDCJ has issued cotton face masks manufactured by the agency to all employees and inmates. The agency has manufactured more than 1.5 million of the masks and they are switched out for laundering frequently. Masks are required for all persons entering any TDCJ facility including administrative offices. Inmates are required to wear masks at all times unless they are in their sleeping area.
- How do I wear a face covering correctly?
- Wash your hands before putting on your face covering
- Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
- Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face
- Make sure you can breathe easily
- What is "close contact"?
The CDC says in the context of COVID-19, an individual is considered a close contact if they a) have been within approximately 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time, or b) have had direct contact with infectious secretions from a COVID-19 case (e.g., have been coughed on). Close contact can occur while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a common space with a COVID-19 case. Data to inform the definition of close contact are limited. Considerations when assessing close contact include the duration of exposure (e.g., longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk) and the clinical symptoms of the person with COVID-19 (e.g., coughing likely increases exposure risk, as does exposure to a severely ill patient).
- Who is allowed to enter TDCJ correctional facilities?
As of March 15, 2021, limited visitation has resumed at all TDCJ facilities. Eligible inmates will be allowed two visits per month. Visits to eligible inmates will be one hour and must be scheduled in advance. All visitors will be required to wear masks and pass a COVID-19 rapid test before entry into any facility. Volunteer and media visits will follow the same restrictions.
- How can we keep in touch with our loved ones?
During the pandemic the TDCJ has been using a number of innovative solutions to keep families in touch. Video visitation is now in place at 35 units and that will remain into the future. The Offender Telephone System is also in full operation.
- What about education and other programming?
Windham School District is currently offering all programming in classroom socially distant and in remote learning models.
- Are inmates being transferred to parole ordered programs?
Yes. The agency is conducting transfers of inmates needing to begin parole voted programs.
- How are intake inmates being screened?
The intake of new inmates entering the TDCJ system from county jails has resumed. Inmates are screened prior to being accepted into the intake facility. Individuals will have an additional medical screening upon arrival at an intake facility.
- What is confirmed vs. suspected COVID-19 case?
According to the CDC, a confirmed case has received a positive result from a COVID-19 laboratory test, with or without symptoms. A suspected case shows symptoms of COVID-19 but either has not been tested or is awaiting test results. If test results are positive, a suspected case becomes a confirmed case.
- What is "Medical Isolation"?
Medical isolation refers to confining a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case to prevent contact with others and to reduce the risk of transmission. Medical isolation ends when the individual meets pre-established clinical and/or testing criteria for release from isolation, in consultation with clinical providers and public health officials. In this context, isolation does NOT refer to punitive isolation for behavioral infractions within the custodial setting.
- What is "Medical Restriction"?
Inmates in TDCJ who are close contacts of a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case (whether the case is another inmate or staff member) will be placed in medically restrictive housing for 14 days. Medical observation will occur in the medical restriction area (cell or dorm) including temperature checks daily. Meals will be served in the restriction area and inmates excluded from group activities. Staff interacting with medically restricted inmates will wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
- What triggers and what are the impacts of a precautionary lockdown?
Precautionary lockdown is for the protection of everyone and is intended to restrict movement of inmates to stop any spread of the virus. The lockdown is instituted for at least 14 days. A precautionary lockdown may be instituted based on high community spread of the virus in the neighboring community, increased employee or inmate asymptomatic cases found in mass or surveillance testing, or increased symptomatic cases.
- Is the TDCJ performing COVID-19 testing?
Since May, the TDCJ in cooperation with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) has been performing mass testing on employees and inmates in TDCJ. So far there have been more than 600,000 tests performed. These tests are only performed on asymptomatic persons using an oral swab test.
- What happens if an inmate or staff member tests positive?
If an inmate tests positive they are moved to medical isolation for at least 14 days from the date of the test. They will only be housed with others of the same testing status if single cell housing is not available. Inmates who have shared a dorm or close contact area with that inmate would then be placed on medical restriction and medically checked daily by medical staff. Unit staff who test positive are required to self-quarantine for 14 days from the date of the test.
- How can I get more information about testing and TDCJ statistics?
The TDCJ COVID-19 dashboard is available at https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/covid-19/mac_dashboard.html
. The information there is updated daily and includes testing statistics for inmate and staff along with medical restriction, isolation, and precautionary lockdown information by unit.
- What is personal protective equipment (PPE)?
PPE consists of masks, gloves, and eye protection.
- Is there a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE)?
No. The TDCJ currently has stockpiles of N-95 and KN-95 masks along with millions of pairs of gloves and other PPE. TDCJ has manufactured more than 1.5 million cloth masks that have been distributed all over the state.