JEFFERSON COUNTY, Texas — As Texas recorded a new daily high of 2,504 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 21% of that number came from Jefferson County.
The 537 new coronavirus cases nearly doubles its previous total. The number caught everyone off guard — from Jefferson Co. Judge Jeff Brannick to Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Texas Department of State Health Services blames the spike in new cases in Jefferson Co. on how local health departments are now reporting numbers from prison facilities. That includes three facilities in Jefferson Co.: the Larry Gist State Jail, Mark W. Stiles Unit and the Richard P. LeBlanc Unit.
According to the TDCJ, most of the coronavirus cases reported on June 10 are outdated and no longer active. It was essentially a data dump of numbers with no clear understanding on which date the positive cases were actually recorded.
"It was a change at the local level at how they were reporting cases in TDCJ inmates, and that's sort of what lead to that big increase in those cases to all be reported at the same time," Chris Van Deusen with the Texas Department of State Health Services told 12News.
Before June 10, positive COVID-19 cases involving TDCJ inmates were calculated separately. They were not included in numbers from local health departments.
"It is standard practice, no matter what kind of illness, that everyone is included in their normal place of residence," Van Deusen said. "For inmates, that is the place where they are diagnosed. That doesn't change with COVID-19. That's consistently been the way it has always been reported in Texas and across the country."
12News found that 523 of the 537 cases reported on Wednesday were from Jefferson Co. correctional facilities.
Brannick told 12News Thursday that he spoke with Gov. Abbott Wednesday night. He says his office is looking into where the breakdown in reporting occurred, and he says he is focused on getting it corrected.
"We think we can establish a framework for assuring those numbers are communicated to the appropriate local health department," Brannick said.
Brannick says this incident is an opportunity to collaborate more closely with TDCJ.
"During emergency events we have the federal prisons represented in our Emergency Operations Center, we have the Coast Guard, we have representatives from (various) cities, but we never had anyone from TDCJ. So we are going to work on making that collaboration," said Brannick.
CORONAVIRUS ON THE RISE
Texas has reported record-high number of new cases and hospitalizations since June 8.
On Wednesday, the state reported 2,153 hospitalizations across Texas. DSHS also reported 2,504 new COVID-19 cases. That is the largest one day spike in cases since testing began in March.
- June 8: 1,935
- June 9: 2,056
- June 10: 2,153
Jefferson Co. is also seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in local hospitals.
The last reported date of June 9 included 14 confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations and 17 COVID-19 patients in the ICU. That is the highest number of patients in the ICU since April 22.
The Texas stay home order initiated by Gov. Abbott ended May 1. Since then, Texas began reopening businesses in phases.
Beginning Friday, restaurants across the state are allowed to expand occupancy levels to 75%. Currently, restaurants and bars are allowed to operate at 50% occupancy.
After reopening on May 1, Southeast Texas saw a decline in the 14 day moving average of cases. Those numbers began increasing around May 12th before the average flattened a few days later. But by late May, the 14 day average began rising and continues to see increases every day.
Part of the increase can be attributed to an increase in testing. However, state and local officials also look at hospitalizations and fatalities linked to COVID-19.
CORONAVIRUS & PRISONS
Statewide, 59% of the state's 106 prison units have active cases. More than a 1,000 prison workers and 7,200 inmates have now tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest figures.
Seven prison workers and 46 inmates have died of complications related to COVID-19. The deaths of 33 inmates are pending a final determination of cause of death.
“I’m scared every day. I’m very, very, very scared,” a Hutchins correctional officer told WFAA-TV. He asked that his identity be concealed and to remain anonymous because he fears losing his job for speaking out about conditions inside the prison.
He and other correctional officers told WFAA the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the state’s prison system, was too slow to stop accepting prisoners from county jails and has put employees’ lives at risk by continuing to send guards assigned to work at one unit to other units.
TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel defended the prison system’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Correctional officers are a hardy bunch and a group that are determined to provide the best service that they can provide to the citizens of the state of Texas,” he told WFAA. “We’re asking a lot of our correctional officers. We’re providing them with all the tools we can provide them with.”