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Federal Prison In Fort Worth Has 2nd Most Coronavirus Cases In Country

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - From a phone at the end of a long hallway, Chris Monroe looked behind him and said he could see a tight line of people.

They were two to three feet apart. There was another line next to them, separated by the same distance. Others, were roaming through the hall, making their way to a shared bathroom.

"There's people everywhere," he said. "They don't have a choice."

The distancing rules recommended to fight the COVID-19 virus, simply aren't possible he said, inside the unit of the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth where he is confined.

Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth
Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth (Jason Allen - CBS 11)

The prison that holds men with serious or chronic medical needs, has become the site of one of the largest facility spreads of COVID-19 in the country.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reported Wednesday there had been 298 lab confirmed cases among inmates in Fort Worth.

Three have died.

One staff member has tested positive.

It is the second-most cases in the country behind a facility in California.

"The BOP's taken some extraordinary measures," Monroe said. "It just doesn't seem to be working. I want to believe they're doing everything they can to get the situation straightened out."

As of Wednesday, BOP had placed 1,805 inmates on home confinement in an effort to decrease population density inside.

Monroe filed a petition in federal court, asking a judge to grant him the same.

After pleading guilty to a non-violent drug crime in 2015, he is about halfway through a 10-year sentence. He's completed a rehab program, was awarded a job as a dentist apprentice and been certified in fitness and nutrition. His mother and sister live nearby.

In an order last week however, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor wrote that Monroe is not terminally ill, suffering from a medical condition, impairment or aging. He denied the request.

"In Chris's case he's young, he's healthy, he has no health conditions to make him more susceptible to the virus," explained attorney Benson Varghese. "He doesn't meet the conditions a judge is looking for."

Varghese said there is still a pending request made directly to the BOP for home confinement.

He has been assisting other former clients, and had some new ones approach his firm for help navigating the request process. To this point, none of them have been successful.

Monroe said he is in a unit where everyone is presumed to still be healthy. He had his temperature taken once.

The prison gave them masks to wear that he thinks were made on-site. He was wearing one, but he said most people were not. He chalked it up to "tough guy syndrome."

He had seen tents being set up on the grounds, portable showers and people in hazmat suits. He said it was like the movies.

"Every cough, every sneeze," he said. "It's got you hyper vigilant."

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