GOLDSBORO - The North Carolina Division of Prisons is increasing its efforts to contain and reduce the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) at Neuse Correctional Institution.
In a proactive and aggressive approach to protect staff and offenders, prison officials have initiated the testing of all 700 offenders at the facility, as well as providing access to tests for staff who wish to be tested.
"This strategy is the result of a strong collaborative and coordinated effort between the Prisons Incident Command Team, the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Laboratory for Public Health, LabCorp and the Wayne County Health Department," said Todd Ishee, commissioner of prisons.
"The outbreak at Neuse CI is no doubt a cause for concern but not for panic. We have medical protocols in place to handle this and frankly it is better to know up front what we are facing so we can do what is necessary to stop the spread."
COVID-19 tests swabs were taken Wednesday from around 300 offenders in five dorms, and the results are coming in today. Actions promptly taken include:
- Newly positive offenders are being placed in isolation
- Additional medical and security personnel are being dispatched to the prison to bolster the men and women who are treating COVID-19 positive offenders
As of today, the total number of staff at Neuse who have self-reported positive test results for COVID-19 is eight. For offenders, approximately 80 have tested positive at the facility, with additional results still pending. Many of those were not symptomatic.
In addition, the entire staff of around 250 people at Neuse CI will be offered the chance to be tested for COVID-19 on Friday, April 17, with the assistance of the Wayne County Health Department. This is another effort to identify anyone at the facility without symptoms, but who may have the virus. The staff testing is voluntary at this point.
Regardless, pre-entrance screening for staff including temperature checks started on April 1. Staff, who have shown up to work with any symptoms, a fever or who answered yes to screening questions were turned away and told to quarantine at home. All staff and offenders were also provided masks.
The 300 offenders who were tested yesterday were housed in dorms currently under quarantine because 30 offenders in those housing areas previously tested positive for COVID-19 and were moved into isolation for treatment.
The tests results will guide the enactment of contingency plans designed to prevent further spread of the virus and better protect the staff and the offenders.
"Our top priority is everyone's health and safety," Ishee said. "We now have better intelligence on the extent of the problem we are facing at Neuse. Working with local and state health officials, we will do everything we can to stop this virus here and now, so it doesn't continue to spread."
The Division of Prisons has taken more than three dozen actions to prevent COVID-19 from getting into the prisons, and to contain it within a facility if it does and to prevent its spread to other prisons.
Some of those actions include:
- Provided extra soap and disinfecting supplies and required additional cleaning regimens.
- Began transitioning some non-violent offenders who meet strict criteria and legal guidelines to serve their sentence outside of a DPS prison facility, but under the supervision of community corrections officers and/or special operations officers.
- Awarding discretionary time credits, where appropriate and within statutory authority to reduce a maximum sentence so that offenders are released earlier by completing their minimum sentence.
- Increased Correction Enterprises production of washable cloth face masks (made 40,000 last week; additional 30,000 expected this week). Approximately 79,000 have been produced so far. Masks have been made and distributed to staff and offenders in all 52 facilities.
- Instituted a two-week moratorium on accepting offenders from county jails.
- Reduced offender transfers between prisons and suspended work release.
Those actions, along with the current public information on the number of offenders who have tested positive for virus statewide, can be found here: https://www.ncdps.gov/our-organization/adult-correction/prisons/prisons-info-covid-19.