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COVID-19: Texas sees cases spike in federal prison

People walk through the High Line park Thursday in New York City. New York state has been on a downward trajectory in its number of new coronavirus cases and deaths. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
People walk through the High Line park Thursday in New York City. New York state has been on a downward trajectory in its number of new coronavirus cases and deaths. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 18 (UPI) -- Texas has experienced a spike in coronavirus cases at a federal prison just outside of Dallas, local officials said.

In Seagoville, Texas, located in Dallas County, nearly three-quarters of the inmates in a federal prison have tested positive for COVID-19 and the Bureau of Prisons confirmed one death from the virus this week.

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Out of 1,446 inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution Seagoville, 1,072 inmates and 10 staff have tested positive, representing about 75 percent inmate infection rate, according to the Bureau of Prison's latest update.

Four staff have recovered and one inmate has died from the virus, according to the update.

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A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson told WFAA in a statement they are using a Rapid RNA testing method to speed up identification of positive cases.

"As testing resources have become more available, we are testing our inmate population more broadly, which is helping us to quickly identify and isolate positive cases to rapidly flatten the curve when outbreaks occur," the statement said.

The spokesperson said those who test positive are isolated and provided care according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who become seriously ill will be transported to a local hospital.

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The Bureau of Prisons identified the inmate who died Thursday as James Giannetta, 65. He was transported Wednesday to a hospital for treatment and placed on a ventilator.

Giannetta was serving a 167-month sentence for drug offenses.

The Bureau of Prisons said that he had "long-term, pre-existing conditions."

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The Seagoville facility had more infections than any other Bureau of Prisons facility in the country. Beaumont facility in Texas has the second-highest number of inmates currently testing positive at 458 inmates with five recovered. One staff member has also tested positive. No deaths have been reported.

A prison in Butner, N.C., has the most inmate deaths at 16 and one staff death. Out of 1,109 inmates, 339 have tested positive and 321 have recovered. One staff has tested positive.

A prison in Fort Worth, Texas, for male inmates with special medical and mental health needs has the second-highest number of inmate deaths at 12 deaths with 582 inmates recovered and 20 still testing positive. Four staff have also tested positive, but no staff has died.

Overall, there are 3,591 active cases among federal inmates and 315 active cases among staff, according to the update. Over 5,400 inmates and more than 630 staff have recovered from the virus. Ninety-one inmates and one staff person have died because of COVID-19.

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Farther south in Texas' Nueces County, 85 infants under age 1 have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, according to Annette Rodriguez, director of public health for the county.

"These babies have not even had their first birthday yet," Rodriguez said. "Please help us stop the spread of this disease."

In her initial comments, the public health official said the county "currently" has 85 babies under the age of 1 who tested positive for the virus. But Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales later clarified, saying the figure represents both active and recovered cases since March.

"For context, the spokesperson was using that statistic to illustrate that no one is naturally immune to this virus," Canales said.

"However, without this context, stating this number during our press conference led many to believe that we had a sudden surge in infants under the age of one testing positive. We have not had a sudden surge of 85 infants testing positive."

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in the county -- home to Corpus Christi -- surged in July after being relatively flat.

Corpus Christi has about 8,100 COVID-19 cases and 82 deaths from the virus, local officials said, adding that health officials in other counties such as Cameron and Hidalgo are stocking up refrigerated trucks to store bodies as morgues become full.

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Local officials encouraged people to wear masks and practice social distancing to curb the spread of the virus.

Texas has reported 321,242 cases since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times analysis of cases. The state has also reported 3,889 deaths from the virus, including 760 deaths in the last seven days.

New York still leads the nation in the number of confirmed cases at 410,254 cases and deaths from COVID-19 at 32,147, including 143 deaths in the last seven days, but it has been experiencing a downward trend in new cases and hospitalizations.

"As New York continues to show progress combating COVID-19 with low hospitalizations and a low rate of positive cases, we remain alarmed by spikes in much of the country and the risk of a lack of compliance at homes as the state pursues a phased, data-driven reopening," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday. "New Yorkers' vigilance, courage and adoption of basic behaviors -- mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing -- has driven our ability to control the virus, and we have to continue on that path to success. I urge everyone to stay New York Tough and New York Smart."

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In Tennessee, military officials at Fort Campbell announced in a Twitter post that personnel will be required to wear mask inside all facilities with certain exceptions.

People may temporarily remove their masks to eat or drink in dining rooms and food courts, while they are alone in individual rooms or workspaces, or while conducting physical training in physical fitness centers.

The United States continues to lead the globe in the number of COVID-19 cases at more than 3.6 million and the number of deaths at more than 139,500, according to John Hopkins University global tracker.

On Friday, the United States set another record, reporting 76,403 new cases, which is more than double the number of daily cases during the initial surge in the spring.

Texas alone reported a record 14,916 new cases and and 174 new deaths on Friday.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted that an appeals court temporarily stayed a federal judge's decision to allow the Texas Republican Party to hold an in-person convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center, but "in the middle of a pandemic, the doors remain locked."

Infections and deaths have been spiking in California, Florida, Georgia and Arizona.

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California has ordered most of its schools to conduct remote learning.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on his belief that Florida schools should reopen for parents who want their children to go back, urging officials not to be "swept up in fear."

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp similarly said Friday that he favors in-person classes for the upcoming school year despite fears. Kemp also reiterated his opposition to mask mandates on the same day.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey was still weighing Thursday whether to allow schools to reopen on Aug. 17, but said he'd feel confident sending his own children back for in-person learning.

A letter to Ducey signed by 84 doctors and nurse practitioners called on him to cancel in-person education for the first quarter of the school year, and said to do otherwise, would be "ill-advised and dangerous."

In Texas, Gov. Gregg Abbott said Tuesday he would extend the time period that public school districts would offer online-only education, but did not give more specific details. Districts had been told previously that they could lose state funding if online-only learning surpassed the first few weeks of the upcoming school year. The extension followed board presidents of the 10 largest school districts sending Abbott a letter demanding more flexibility on reopening.

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More than half of U.S. states have implemented statewide mask requirements.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, President Donald Trump, who recently wore a mask for the first time in public last weekend, told Chris Wallace he would not consider a national mandate for people to wear masks.

"I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don't believe in that," Trump said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify remarks by Nueces County, Texas, Public Health Director Annette Rodriguez regarding the number of active COVID-19 cases among infants.

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