Texas National Guard staff youth prisons amid COVID-19 cases

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has deployed 10,000 state troopers and National Guard units to the Texas border as part of “Operation Lone Star.” (Gov. Greg Abbott)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Members of the Texas National Guard are headed to youth detention centers in the state, providing support to maintain staffing levels as the system deals with COVID-19 cases.

While they aren’t directly interacting for a prolonged period of time with the youth housed at the facilities, they are helping with supply runs, transportation, medical support, food service and bed checks. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department said this allows its staff to “focus on their primary duties of supervising and engaging with our youth.”

TJJD requested help from the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which was able to coordinate with the Texas Military Department to bring in the Texas National Guard. It says six guard members will be working for each 12-hour shift.

The first guard members arrived Tuesday afternoon to the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood and Gainsville State School facilities, according to a spokesman. The Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg and McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart are expecting to get help this week. Guard members are not scheduled to head to Giddings State School.

The extra help is expected to last until Jan. 9, but a spokesman said their contract could be extended if needed.

There are currently 70 positive cases across all facilities out of 742 youth and 1,412 staff, according to TJJD.

The facilities follow a number of safety protocols, according to TJJD’s website, including masking, cleaning and hand washing. They also screen those who enter the facilities and work to keep the youth in small groups. Each facility also has space where those who show symptoms can quarantine.

The Texas National Guard has been deployed this year in a number of ways in Texas, including supporting the Operation Lone Star effort at the border and helping vaccinate seniors against COVID-19.

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