Correction, Aug. 4, 2020: This story originally stated incorrectly that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has taken down its daily COVID-19 report count.
The Dallas County Sheriff's Department has fumbled a few times with its COVID-19 protocols. First, employees were told not to wear masks because that would frighten the inmates. Then, the department started issuing its employees one disposable mask per week and told them to sanitize them with alcohol or Lysol.
Chad Prda, the Republican candidate running for Sheriff Marian Brown's job in November, says employees have since been issued reusable cloth masks and have disposable ones on hand.
However, the sheriff's department says now the inmates are only given one disposable mask each week. In a statement to the Observer, the sheriff department said:
"Our policy states, that every inmate in the Dallas County Jail is given disposable surgical masks.
1) Prior to entering the jail inmates must receive a mask
2) Inmates will receive new masks weekly; and or upon request."
An anonymous sheriff's department employee said the inmates are given a new mask every Wednesday at lunchtime. Unless the masks break, the employee said the inmates are expected to use it throughout the week. It's almost just as bad as not wearing a mask, he said.
"It's just as contaminating," he said. "You're breathing into a mask and you're having to wear it every day for a week. It's just not sanitary."
The World Health Organization has put out a fun video that helps explain why one disposable mask per week just won't cut it. They specifically say not to reuse these masks.
At 55 seconds in the video above, Dr. April Baller, with WHO, says people should not use a medical mask that has been previously used or damaged. Around the two-minute mark, Baller says medical masks are for single-use only and should be discarded immediately after use.
Back in April, Prda tried to have a pallet of N-95 masks donated to the sheriff's department for employees and inmates. In an email to Brown, he said all he needed was an acceptance approval email from the sheriff's office. Brown responded saying the sheriff's department had adequate supplies. Brown added that Prda could forward the information about the N95s to be vetted by the county.
Around the same time, the anonymous sheriff's department employee says, they were issued 3D-printed masks created by Purple Ventures LLC. The masks looked cool and they came with reusable filters.
However, in the disclosure statement at the bottom of the instructions for the masks, it states, "Please be aware that this mask design is not intended to replace standard protective equipment, such as N-95s or surgical masks when that equipment is available." In closing, the statement read, "Use of the masks being provided is at the user's own risk and Purple Ventures LLC assumes no liability under any circumstances."
The anonymous source says the jail has since discontinued the use of these masks.
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In May, when there were 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit that called for immediate intervention and improvements to the jail's conditions.
But, it's not just inmates at Dallas' jail who are having trouble with masks. A couple of weeks ago, the Observer reported that Denton County Jail inmates were allegedly deprived of functioning masks.
According to The Dallas Morning News, 558 inmates in Dallas County had tested positive for the coronavirus as of July 7.