With nearly 500 cases, Harris County Jail has become a hotspot for COVID-19 cases

Nearly 3,000 inmates under observational quarantine

Hundreds of virus cases reported in the Harris County Jail
Hundreds of virus cases reported in the Harris County Jail

HOUSTON – The Harris County Jail is now one of the country’s COVID-19 hotspots, with hundreds of current cases involving inmates and employees.

As of Tuesday, April 27, there were 7,455 detainees in the jail, and 302 of them have tested positive for COVID-19. Another 2,720 inmates are in observational quarantine. In addition, 180 Harris County Sheriff’s Office employees who work at the jail have tested positive. There have been no deaths, and only one inmate has been hospitalized.

For comparison’s sake, we looked at a similar-sized facility, the Cook County Jail in Chicago, which is also dealing with hundreds of cases. As of April 27, 261 inmates and 150 employees were positive for COVID-19, and six inmates and one employee have died.

The Texas prison system has also been hit particularly hard, with more than 300 employees and more than 900 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19. Four corrections officers and 10 inmates have died.

One person who knows exactly what’s going on inside the Harris County Jail is Sgt. Dustin Ballew with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. A few weeks ago, he thought he was dealing with allergies, including a sore throat and congestion until a coworker at the jail noticed he was flush.

“When I got home, I checked my temperature and sure enough I was running a fever,” Ballew said.

He immediately went into quarantine and got tested for COVID-19.

“The fever, the chills, those were probably the worst part of it,” Ballew said.