COVID-19 outbreak reported at Texas federal medical prison

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — More than 500 women at a federal medical prison in Texas have tested positive for the coronavirus, in one of the largest confirmed outbreaks at a federal prison, the Bureau of Prisons said.

The number of confirmed cases at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell in Fort Worth jumped to 510 on Tuesday, just two days after the Bureau of Prisons reported that 200 women there had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Only the federal prison in Seagoville, also located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had more infected inmates, with 1,156 cases as of Tuesday.

“We’re like a whole bunch of hamsters in a cage chasing our own tails,” said Carswell inmate Holli Chapman.

Three weeks ago, the prison had reported only three confirmed cases of the virus among inmates. One prisoner, Andrea Circle Bear, died in April. On July 12, 69-year-old Sandra Kincaid became the second woman to die there from the virus. The third, 51-year-old Teresa Ely, died Monday.

FMC-Carswell holds female inmates with medical and mental health issues. It currently has 1,357 prisoners. Since April, many inmates have told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram that they were concerned the virus could spread through the prison.

One of the inmates who has tested positive for the virus is Reality Winner, a former government contractor who is serving a five-year prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to mailing a classified report to a news organization.

Carswell’s administration directed questions to the Bureau of Prisons. The agency said in a statement that it is taking precautions to stem the virus' spread.

“As with any type of emergency situation, we carefully assess how to best ensure the safety of staff, inmates and the public,” the agency said. “All of our facilities are implementing the BOP’s guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”

Last week, several women at Carswell told the newspaper that the facility did not have enough sanitizing supplies or protective equipment. The women also noted that cells are not immediately cleaned after someone tests positive. Inmate Sandra Shoulders said mattresses used by women who have tested positive are piled up in a TV room.

“We feel basically abandoned,” she said. “(Officers) are saying they’re doing all this stuff for us, that they’re in here with us. But they’re not the ones in 24-hour quarantine, left in a 6-by-6 cell with three other people with 10 minute showers, 10 minutes to be on the phone or email to communicate with their families.”

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