First state prison inmate dies of COVID-19, lockdown expands
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A 72-year-old is first Texas state inmate reported to be a possible COVID-19 fatality during the new coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses Texas Gov. Greg Abbott of overstepping his constitutional authority when he issued an order prohibiting bond for some criminal suspects during the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, the number of residents at a San Antonio nursing home who have died of the virus rose to 10, and officials said a majority of the people who have been killed by the coronavirus in Houston have been African Americans.
Telford Unit inmate Bartolo Infante, 72, died Tuesday, according to a Wednesday statement from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Infante suffered from numerous preexisting medical conditions and was hospitalized under isolation in Texarkana, Texas, for viral pneumonia after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the TDCJ statement said.
An autopsy was ordered to determine if COVID-19 was a factor in Infante’s death. Four Telford Unit employees have tested positive for the illness and are under self-quarantine, while seven offenders have been confirmed to be infected, according to the statement.
The Telford Unit is under medical restriction, and the number of Texas state prisons locked down after inmates or staff tested positive for COVID-19 rose from two to 15, the TDCJ said. Wednesday alone, 15 new employee/contractor tests and 19 positive offender tests were reported, bringing to 56 the number of TDCJ staff, employees and contractors and 47 inmates to test positive for COVID 19.
More than 12,000 inmates are currently under lockdown statewide.
A 49-year-old state corrections officer died Monday after testing positive for COVID-19 while hospitalized for a heart condition.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Tuesday that it was investigating whether the disease contributed to Kelvin Wilcher’s death. No one else at the Estelle Unit prison in Huntsville where he worked has tested positive, the agency said.
There have been more than 9,300 cases of COVID-19 in Texas and 177 deaths, up from 154 on Tuesday.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Abbott’s March 29 order, which prohibits bond for anyone arrested on charges involving physical violence or who have past convictions for violent offenses, came as state officials worked to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in jails.
The lawsuit says the order unlawfully tries to remove discretion from judges about who can get bond. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and others filed the lawsuit in state district court in Travis County on behalf of Harris County misdemeanor magistrate judges, criminal defense organizations and the NAACP Texas.
The lawsuit says since social distancing is nearly impossible in jails, stakeholders have been working to reduce jail populations “in ways consistent with both state law and the safety of the community.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office didn’t immediately comment.
DEATHS MOUNT AT NURSING HOME
Ten residents at the Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in San Antonio have died after a coronavirus outbreak infected most of the people living there, officials said Wednesday.
That means more than half of 20 reported coronavirus-related deaths in the city are linked to the nursing home. The most recent victims were two women, one in her 70s and the other in her 80s, city officials said in a statement.
At least 67 of 84 residents at the facility tested positive for COVID-19, and several staff members were infected as well. The virus has swept through other Texas nursing homes, including one in Texas City, where a doctor is treating nearly 30 people with an anti-malaria drug that has been heavily promoted by President Donald Trump but is unproven to be effective against COVID-19.
HOUSTON AFRICAN AMERICANS AT RISK
Of 11 deaths in Houston blamed on COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, seven were African-American, Dr. David Persse, the city’s public health authority, told the City Council Wednesday.
While African Americans make up about 23% of Houston’s population, they made up nearly 64% of those killed by the virus so far.
City officials didn’t have a racial breakdown of the more than 1,200 people infected.
The rate of deaths among African Americans in Houston is similar to other U.S. cities, including Chicago, and states that are reporting a disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths in African American communities.