The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office has restricted which suspects it will book into jail and suspended in-person inmate visitation at the jail due to recent cases of COVID-19.

Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb said in a statement Tuesday that the facility in Gilmer had its first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

“Approximately three weeks ago, medical staff ... confirmed cases within the jail, both inmates and employees, and mitigation steps were immediately implemented,” Webb said.

He said he believes “vigorous cleaning and disinfecting” policies instituted early in the pandemic helped keep the virus at bay. No jail inmates have been hospitalized due to the virus.

Inmate visitation has been suspended for 30 days, Webb said, and the sheriff’s office has modified who is booked into jail.

“As this illness is highly contagious, the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office has restricted the booking of inmates unless it is significantly necessary,” Webb said in the statement. “Criminal cases will be filed on those persons who would have been arrested on-site, and warrants will be sought for these persons’ arrest when the illness subsides within the jail. Deputies will continue to arrest any persons who present an immediate threat to public safety.”

Arrests will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis when it comes to the need to book a suspect into the jail, Webb said.

“It’s similar to what the Gregg County Jail is doing also,” Webb said during an interview Tuesday. “Nonviolent offenses is what we’re looking at. If it’s in the citizens’ best interest, then we will need to put them in jail.”

In violent crime situations, suspects will continue to be booked into the facility. Webb said the limit on bookings is only until COVID-19 cases are under control.

“The safety of citizens is our first concern, always,” he said. “We try to do as much as we can to mitigate the exposure to everyone.”

“We look at this pretty seriously. We are still going to do our job.”

The Upshur County Jail is working with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Texas Department of State Health Services and its jail doctors to deal with the illness. Webb said the jail has three negative pressure cells to help with controlling the spread of the disease.

“We have fought it as long as we could, and, eventually if you walk around snakes long enough, eventually one is going to bite you,” Webb said of the pandemic.

Webb said the Upshur County Jail is working with NCIC inmate phone service to provide video calls to inmates during the suspended in-person visitation. For the time being, inmates are allowed two 20-minute video visits.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office also suspended in-person inmate visitation due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

In a statement Monday on its Facebook page, the sheriff’s office said its staff is working with state and local health officials for the best course of action.

To protect inmates and employees, in-person visitation at the Cherokee County Jail is suspended for the next 30 days. Inmates will be allowed to use a free video visit weekly, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Pray for our staff, inmates, and community as we work through this situation,” the statement read.

In numbers released Monday, the Northeast Texas Public Health District reported no known COVID-19 cases in the Gregg or Smith County jails.

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.