RALEIGH — The Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice — Prisons will test all staff at three prisons in a pilot project aimed at improving staff health and safety, as well as reducing the potential for spread of COVID-19 at the facilities.
“This is another strategy to curb the introduction of the virus into our prisons,” said Todd Ishee, commissioner of Prisons. “Staff safety during this pandemic is a top priority. This will help to keep them healthy, their families safer from the virus, and will better protect the offender populations.”
This required staff testing will start Monday, Oct. 12, and be conducted at the Dan River Prison Work Farm, Scotland Correctional and Greene Correctional institutions. The facilities were chosen because they feature one dormitory-style housing facility (DRPWF), one single-cell housing facility (Scotland), and because Greene Correctional houses a COVID-vulnerable offender population with pre-existing medical conditions. They also all have COVID-19 outbreaks.
Currently, 74 offenders have active cases of COVID-19 at Dan River, while 33 offenders have active cases at Greene Correctional and 101 offenders have active cases at Scotland Correctional. A total of 58 staff at the three facilities combined are currently off the job with active cases of COVID-19. Around 170 staff work at the Dan River facility while around 500 work at Scotland Correctional and almost 200 work at Greene Correctional.
In this pilot testing project, staff currently working inside the three facilities will self-administer an intra-nasal swab test provided by LabCorp and place the samples in a drop box. Instructions will be provided to the staff on how to properly take the samples. There is no cost to staff for the testing.
LabCorp will report positive test results to ACJJ-Prisons Administration and to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), which will report the results to the local public health departments, so they can investigate any communicable disease outbreaks, as required by law, and conduct contact tracing as necessary.
Staff who test positive must remain off the job until they meet the criteria to be considered presumed recovered established by the Centers for Disease Control and the NCDHHS. Once an initial round of testing is completed, Prisons’ leadership will review the COVID-19 positivity rates at each prison to determine how to continue with additional staff testing.
Ishee added, “This initiative is designed to learn more about the effectiveness of a testing program required of each staff person, and to determine best practices to guide future staff testing decisions to effectively meet the goal of reducing the introduction of COVID-19 in the prison system.”
Since the pandemic began, more than 48,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the offender population.
Prisons has taken more than four dozen other COVID-19 actions to include:
Distribution of cloth, three-ply face masks, enough to supply six to all staff and offenders, as well as distribution of medical-grade PPE to staff who come in contact with COVID-positive offenders.
New offenders to the prison system are placed in medical quarantine, without contact with the general offender population, and tested for COVID-19.
Offenders who are transferred to other prisons are placed in medical quarantine, without contact with the general offender population.
Offenders who test positive are promptly separated from the rest of the offender population and placed in medical isolation.
The housing units where the COVID-19 positive offenders were housed are placed under medical quarantine for close observation with twice daily temperature checks.
All housing units at the prisons are kept in groups (cohorts), to prevent the mixing of offenders in one housing unit from those in other housing units as a precautionary viral-spread mitigation strategy.
All of those protocols are in keeping with guidance from the CDC and NCDHHS for virus-mitigation and containment in a congregate care facility, such as nursing homes and prisons.