Tarrant County health officials address lag in COVID-19 reporting from Fort Worth federal prison

Tarrant County saw a surge in COVID-19 cases on Sunday, thanks to data dump by the federal prison system.

The vast majority of those 485 cases reported Sunday are from a federal prison in Fort Worth, and they are not new cases. FOX 4 wanted to know why the numbers were just released to the county.

PREVIOUS STORY: Tarrant County reports 485 new COVID-19 cases, 423 of which are from federal prison outbreak

Health officials say 40 percent of the federal prison's population is COVID-19 positive. The vast majority of those are at the men's unit. Some confusion surrounding the frequency of reporting those cases is now being discussed.

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Tarrant County’s latest tally of COVID-19 cases includes 423 people who tested positive at the federal prison known as Federal Medical Center Fort Worth. The cases have existed for some time but were just officially factored in.

In the meantime, the Federal Bureau of Prisons says the current number at the facility is actually 636 cases, including five inmate deaths.

FOX 4 asked Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley to explain the lag in getting those numbers from the federal government to local health officials.

“The warden indicated yesterday when we asked who he reported his numbers to and he reported them to the federal authorities, but they weren’t getting back down to us,” he said.

Judge Whitley says that will soon change. A scheduled meeting on Monday between prison officials and county health and hospital officials aims to begin better communication and timely reporting.

“I believe after the visit today there will be a plan developed and everybody will sign off on that plan, and we’ll begin to follow that,” the judge said. “It will develop much better communication and make sure we are doing everything we can to stop the spread and flatten out their number of positive cases.”

The federal prison is designated as a facility for inmates with special medical needs, but services are limited and would not be extended to those who are seriously ill. 

“I think currently we have somewhere just a little under 30 patients hospitalized inmates,” Whitley said. “Some of those or at John Peter Smith and some are at some of the Kindred facilities in the area.”

The federal government handles testing at the prison. However, Judge Whitley says it’s possible the county will begin to assist with that. It would also help the county have a better view of how the numbers fluctuate.

Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases