Ricky Conner

Ricky Conner

The Duncan Unit correctional facility in Diboll is on lockdown because they have 204 COVID-19 cases, including 19 employees, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website.

There have been zero recoveries, with 150 on medical restriction — meaning they’ve been restricted from moving around because they may have been exposed to the virus — and 216 in medical isolation — meaning they are pending the results of a COVID-19 test or have tested positive and haven’t been medically cleared.

Additionally, there are more than a dozen who have been hospitalized locally, according to Angelina County Emergency Coordinator Ricky Connor.

The Duncan Unit is the geriatric facility that sits close to the Diboll Correctional Facility. The Texas Tribune reported that there were 422 inmates in the Duncan Unit in April 2020.

Jeremy Desel, the TDCJ's director of communications, said testing showing these numbers was conducted two weeks ago and that many were asymptomatic and have remained asymptomatic.

He also said that because of how many prisons the department is working with, it has been difficult to amass the health care professionals needed to clear cases in every unit. While the department doesn’t believe the number of positive cases at the Duncan Unit is still that high, it is reluctant to decrease the number reported and to re-introduce those people to the general population. The department wants to wait until the patients can be cleared to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.

Additionally, the employees who tested positive were asked to stay home for two weeks and remain in quarantine to mitigate the risks of the virus spreading in the community.

The TDCJ website hosts a dashboard that details the number of cases for both offenders and employees. It does not list any deaths related to COVID-19 in Angelina County, but it does list the 49 other deaths throughout the state, including their names, ages, where they were serving and why they are in prison.

This information was not made known to local leaders, emergency coordinators or health officials until Wednesday, according to Connor.

“There are cases there, but the state hasn’t told us anything,” he said. “That’s a state-run facility and they have not told us anything.”

Desel said local entities should have been informed of the cases by state health services — that it was not the job of the TDCJ. The TDCJ was only required to report to the state, but they’ve had the dashboard up for months, which other entities throughout the state have had no trouble finding and utilizing.

Connor said he found out about the cases accidentally, saying it sounded like a slip of the tongue from someone from the state on a conference call. He told someone at the state that the employees are Angelina County residents and the community needs to be apprised of potential health risks.

“They don’t want to tell us any cases, that’s fine. I’d like to know the cases of employees living in the county who could possibly affect more people,” Connor said.

Angelina County & Cities Health District administrator Sharon Shaw said the state doesn’t have to report to any local entities.

“ACCHD is concerned with a rise in cases from these facilities and is hopeful that we can work alongside these local TDCJ entities to address concerns regarding COVID-19 positive cases in their employee ranks,” she said in an email on Thursday.