ANDERSON, TEXAS — Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell recently decided to close visitation to jail inmates as a precautionary measure, due to recent COVID-19 cases that have come up in at least two jail staffers.
"We opened up in the recent past with small baby steps – visitation with caution," Sowell said. "Rather than take a chance, we've decided we’re going to hold it off. We’re going to reserve everything till Sept. 1."
The jail had reopened to visitors for just one month starting in early July, after being closed off during most of the pandemic. Sowell’s decision to close visitation at the beginning of August came after two of his staff have been out sick with the coronavirus.
“Our jail administrator, Davis Use, is currently in the hospital getting treated for COVID-related issues," said Sgt. Michael Briggs, jail sergeant for Grimes County.
Briggs works in an overseer capacity, just underneath jail administrator Use. Briggs noted he does worry about COVID-19 entering his jail, especially as a recent cancer survivor. But, maintaining a clean space, wearing gloves when working with inmates, is the routine for his workplace, and had been before the pandemic.
“It’s just something that we do, and it’s ingrained in us to do it all the time," he said. "We’ve been doing it, we’re still doing it."
Briggs and Sowell both said reception from the public about closing visitation has been mostly positive and understanding. So far, the sheriff’s office has been able to keep the coronavirus out of the inmate population, throughout the entire pandemic.
"We do a full screening before [inmates] come into the jail," Briggs explained. "... We do temperature checks, ask them pertinent questions about COVID-19, when they’ve been tested. Then they go through a 48-hour initial quarantine.”
Sowell said that his staff will continue to take numerous precautions against the virus for the foreseeable future. For him, keeping people safe from this disease is personal.
“I don’t see any problem with being overly cautious," the sheriff commented. "I lost my mother to COVID last year, in August. She was in a nursing home... Something slipped through the cracks... You cannot take this lightly.”
Sowell will re-visit the situation at the end of this month, and then determine whether visitation can be re-instated. For now, inmates have the option to communicate with their loved ones via telephone.
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