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5 Dallas County jail inmates confirmed to have COVID-19

Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown said the first inmate who tested positive for the novel coronavirus has been in custody since December.

Updated at 6:18 p.m. with new positive tests. 

Five Dallas County jail inmates have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, officials said Wednesday afternoon. 

One inmate, a man in his 40s, was confirmed to have the disease Wednesday morning, and Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown said four other inmates had symptoms of the illness. 

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said during a 6 p.m. news conference that those four people had also tested positive for COVID-19. 

It's unclear how the first inmate got the disease. He has been in jail since December and was held in a pod with 50 others. 

Jenkins assured families of Dallas County inmates that people are housed separately. 

"The fact that your loved one is in jail does not mean they're going to get Covid," the judge said. 

Inmates at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center are held in separate pods. There were 51 people in the same pod where the man was held. 

All the inmates who came in contact with the man are quarantined, the sheriff said. 

Brown did not say where the man is currently being held and did not say whether he has been hospitalized. 

Any employees at the jail who came into contact with the man have been asked to self-quarantine, officials said. 

"This was something that we hoped would not come to pass," Brown said. 

She said the detention pod where the man was held is being cleaned and sanitized. 

The sheriff's office is conducting an investigation into "how this happened here," Brown said Wednesday afternoon. 

The Dallas County announcement comes a day the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said a prison inmate in Galveston has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

That person, a 37-year-old man, is the first prison inmate in Texas to test positive for COVID-19. 

One Texas prison employee has also tested positive for the disease. The Texas Tribune reported that at least 51 prison employees have reported being tested, with 22 negative tests and 28 pending results. 

In Tarrant County, the sheriff told county commissioners on Tuesday that the jail population is the lowest it has been in two years as they work to get people out of their holding facilities and release people out who have misdemeanors.

Jenkins said Wednesday that if the disease spreads in the jail, the county will turn to the jail at the top of the George Allen Courthouse to help house infected inmates. 

Per Jenkins, there are 114 beds inside the unit that first opened in 1966. 

The jail was decommissioned last year but has since been brought back to state standards as of a week ago in preparation that an inmate would test positive for COVID-19. 

Jenkins also said that police and jailers were discussing new protocols Wednesday night to possibly quarantine together instead of at home with their families. 

Since many in law enforcement work in groups, it would likely ease the spread of COVID-19 if officers didn't introduce the virus to their families. 

Jenkins said logistics would involve a host officer allowing multiple officers to isolate in their home while the host officer's family resides with other relatives.  

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