Judge orders Texas prison to provide soap, masks for inmates

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge in Houston has ordered Texas to provide inmates with hand sanitizer, masks and unrestricted access to soap at one prison following the death of an inmate who’d tested positive for the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison issued a preliminary injunction Thursday night calling for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide the items at the Pack Unit, where 62-year-old Leonard Clerkly had been incarcerated.

Clerkly died Saturday at a hospital after testing positive for the virus. As of Thursday, 327 inmates in Texas prisons had tested positive for the virus.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is reviewing the ruling and will likely appeal, said spokesman Jeremy Desel.

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The lawsuit was brought by some of the same lawyers who successfully sued for air conditioning at the prison.

The order follows weeks of new litigation and a Thursday hearing at which the judge heard testimony by phone from two men being held at the Pack Unit, which is located near Navasota, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Houston.

Laddy Valentine, a 69-year-old prisoner with a heart condition, described how difficult it is to take some steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus in prison. He works as a janitor and said there are limited cleaning supplies. When everyone is locked in their cells it’s impossible to keep 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart, he said.

“Death concerns me,” Valentine testified. “The rapid spread of it is my greatest concern, not just for myself but for quite a few others that are here in the unit too. Some are in worse condition than I am, and obviously, one has already died.”

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For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

Meanwhile, the number of statewide deaths in Texas caused by the new coronavirus has topped 400 and confirmed cases are approaching 17,000, according to statistics compiled Thursday evening at Johns Hopkins University.

Texas has reported 414 deaths to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, an increase of 39 deaths in one day, according to a Thursday night update. Confirmed cases in Texas had reached 16,876 by Thursday night, up by 972 cases in one day.