The Texas Department of Corrections has reversed course and will now allow employees to wear protective masks inside the prisons.
However, corrections officers will only be allowed to wear masks that have been issued from the agency.
On Sunday, TDCJ officials announced that they have started the distribution cotton masks manufactured by offenders to all staff. Those masks will be required for all personnel working inside of prison units and optional for those in administrative settings or parole officers in the field.
“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice continues to analyze the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the guidance provided by health professionals including the Centers for Disease Control CDC,” officials said in a release. According to the CDC and the surgeon general of the US, the issued masks are not intended to be a replacement for six foot social distancing, but a supplement to those guidelines.”
The CDC has consistently said that cotton masks like the TDCJ issued garments do not protect the wearer from the virus, but they can help stop the spread of the virus by the wearer.
An initial distribution of 50,000 masks that have been produced in TDCJ garment factories are in use now at prison units across the state. Prison officials have said that ten prison unit factories are working seven days a week now producing up to 20,000 additional masks a day.
“The new guidelines will continue for at least the next several weeks or until no longer recommended by health professionals,” officials added. “Temperature screening of all persons entering prison units and many offices will continue with anyone with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher being sent home to self quarantine.”
As of Monday, there have been 28 TDCJ employees or contractors that have tested positive for the virus. Additionally, there have been 19 offenders that have tested positive with two coming from the Thomas Goree Unit and one from the John M. Wynne Unit in Huntsville.
As a result of the positive cases and other possible contact investigations, TDCJ officials have said that there are over 4,800 asymptomatic offenders in medical restriction and 71 offenders in medical isolation with positive or pending COVID-19 tests.
Offenders in medical restriction are also being issued the cotton masks to protect others from possible virus infection. They have been placed in lockdown, instead of previous policies which allowed medical restriction offenders to navigate their housing unit.
The agency is routing all testing through the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. According to prison officials, that has resulted in faster turnaround times for tests, as well as a higher degree of accuracy.