The first Texas prisoner has died after testing positive for the new coronavirus

Telford prison in New Boston on March 21, 2018. (Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune)

The first Texas prisoner has died after testing positive for the new coronavirus, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported Wednesday. Shortly after announcing the death, the prison system said it was locking down 15 prisons where there have been positive cases.

Bartolo Infante, 72, was an inmate at the Telford Unit near Texarkana, TDCJ said in a statement. He tested positive for the virus Friday after being hospitalized for viral pneumonia. He died Tuesday. TDCJ said Infante was in medical isolation when he died and had preexisting medical conditions.

Infante's death comes a day after the department reported the first death of an employee. Kelvin Wilcher, 49, was a correctional officer at the Estelle Unit in Huntsville and died Monday. Wilcher went to a Houston hospital April 1 and had a cardiac event, TDCJ said. He later tested positive for the virus. The prison system said it was under investigation whether his death was caused by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Telford Unit was placed on lockdown in the last few days, keeping more than 2,800 men in what is essentially a prison quarantine. Eight inmates and four employees have tested positive at the prison, the agency said. More tests are pending. No other positives were reported at the Estelle Unit as of Tuesday.

By Wednesday afternoon, TDCJ said it was locking down all prison facilities where any inmate or employee had tested positive for the virus for 14 days from the date of a positive test. As of Wednesday, that included 15 of Texas' more than 100 prison lockups: Beto, Clements, Darrington, the East Texas Transfer Facility, Estelle, Goree, Jordan, Murray, Ramsey, Robertson, Smith, Stringfellow, Telford, Woodman and Wynne units. In those units, prisoners will be largely kept in their cells or dorms, with regular activity suspended. Meals move from the dining halls to giving inmates "johnnies," sack meals like bologna sandwiches, in their beds.

The agency reported Wednesday that 47 inmates across the state — up from 26 Tuesday — and at least 36 TDCJ employees had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Eighty-five inmate tests were pending. More than 12,000 prisoners — including multiple entire prisons — had potentially been exposed to the virus. TDCJ said those inmates will have their temperatures checked twice a day by employees who will wear a N95 masks and gloves. The Texas prison system holds about 140,000 men and women.