Texas jail official says most inmates refuse to be tested for COVID-19
They don't want to risk being placed in quarantine, she said
By Claire Osborn
GEORGETOWN, Texas — More than 90% of the people booked into the Williamson County Jail are refusing to be tested for coronavirus, an official said.
"Anyone who is placed in the jail is offered a rapid COVID-19 test," said Assistant Chief Kathleen Pokluda of the Williamson County sheriff's office. "The vast majority refuse to take the test because they do not want to be placed in quarantine" if they test positive, she said.
Inmates with coronavirus are separated with other inmates who have it and are moved back to the general population after 10 days unless they are feeling sick.
That created a problem in July when one inmate who had been in jail for two weeks tested positive after beginning to feel ill, Pokluda said.
"He did not want to mention anything because he did not desire to move within the jail," Pokluda said.
"Prior to this he moved through a couple of areas in the jail, which resulted in us testing every inmate that may have been exposed," she said. "The results of this large testing process over a month's time were approximately 70 COVID-positive cases. Almost every inmate was asymptomatic and showed no signs of COVID."
No inmates have died of coronavirus, Pokluda said.
"Our level of care for those that test positive for COVID is in no way less than the average citizen; in fact most likely far greater," Pokluda said. "They are checked twice daily by medical staff and immediately sent to the hospital, if needed, for appropriate care with no limitations."
The jail had 587 inmates as of Monday.
Once a month, the Williamson County and Cities Health District offers Moderna vaccinations at the jail.
In July, 62 inmates chose to get a COVID-19 vaccination, which was less than 10% of the jail's population, Pokluda said. In August, 38 inmates chose to get vaccinated, she said.
The vaccination became available to all adults on March 29.
Williamson County did not offer the vaccination to inmates until July because "like the rest of the world our facility and staff were attempting to understand the disease by using the ever-changing and often conflicting information provided by the CDC, local health authority, TCJS (Texas Commission on Jail Standards) and peer facilities," Pokluda said.
"We are not aware of any facility that offered the vaccine immediately when it was first made available to the population based on the governor's order and priorities. ... There was also consideration being given to the potential impact to the county should medical complications arise from an inmate having a reaction to the vaccine, which may have required hospitalization."
The jail also had low numbers of inmates with COVID-19 until the highly contagious delta variant arrived, she said. The health district reported the county's first three cases in July.
Figures from the Williamson County Jail showed there were 37 reported cases of coronavirus in January, four in February and then no reported cases from March through June.
The jail had 70 COVID-19 cases in July and 21 in August as of Aug. 23, the latest day for which figures were available.
Last year, when a vaccine was not available, the highest number of coronavirus cases the jail had per month was 33 in August 2020. The jail began keeping track of COVID-19 cases among inmates on July 19, 2020, Poluka said.