State prison officials have completed COVID-19 tests of all offenders in state prisons and the results show 2.1 percent were positive for the virus in a six-week mass testing operation.
Of the 29,062 offenders who were tested during mass testing, a total of 619 tested positive. This positivity percentage of 2.1 percent is much lower than in prison systems in other states.
“Our staff have worked tirelessly to prevent the virus from getting into our prisons, to contain it when it does get into a facility and to reduce its spread to other prisons,” said Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee. “These numbers confirm their hard work is paying off and reflect our ongoing commitment to the safety of all North Carolina prisons.”
The mass testing of the prison population began on June 22, at a cost of around $3.3 million. COVID-19 tests were administered by Prisons Health Services staff as well as the North Carolina National Guard and were analyzed by LabCorp.
The entire current prison population now has been tested for COVID-19. In addition to the 29,000 offenders tested in the mass testing operation, an additional 1,600 offenders were tested for the virus on their transfer from county jails to prison over the past two months. Another 600 offenders had previously tested positive, recovered and did not need to be retested under Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) guidance.
Offenders who tested positive were placed in medical isolation to mitigate viral transmission. Offenders in housing units where others tested positive were placed under medical quarantine for close observation and twice daily temperature checks. Any offender who subsequently revealed symptoms of the virus was moved into medical isolation and retested.
These protocols are consistent with guidance from the CDC and NCDHHS.
The vast majority of offenders in the state prison system who tested positive for COVID-19 since the first case emerged four months ago, on April 1, are now presumed to have recovered. Of the 1,459 offenders who tested positive during the course of this pandemic, 1,210 have met CDC and NCDHHS criteria to be released from medical isolation.
Prisons will continue to test all new offenders for COVID-19 when they arrive at prison diagnostic facilities from the county jails. Those offenders are placed in quarantine upon arrival and remain there until their test results are received. Any who test positive are moved to medical isolation until they meet the criteria to be presumed recovered. All offenders transferred within the prison system are tested prior to transfer or quarantined for 14 days on their arrival at a new facility.
“Our top priority is everyone’s health and safety, and I mean everyone,” Ishee said. “I am proud of our prison staff who have worked so hard to combat this virus for so long, because of their deep sense of duty to protect the public. They are unsung heroes and can never be thanked enough for their selfless service.”
In 24 prison facilities, no offenders tested positive for the virus during mass testing.
NCDHHS statistics show the COVID-19 positivity rates in North Carolina have averaged between 7 and 9 percent over the last month, which is higher than the 2.1 positivity rate found in North Carolina prisons during mass testing.
Other states that mass-tested their offender populations show the following COVID-19 positivity rates on their websites on Aug. 6:
- New Jersey – 16.3 percent
- Tennessee – 13.6 percent
- Michigan –10.8 percent
- Texas — 9.8 percent
The North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Prisons has taken more than four dozen actions to prevent COVID-19 from getting into the prisons. Its leadership and field staff remain committed to continuing their heroic efforts to stop the spread and to contain it when it does show up within a facility.
Those actions, along with the current public information on the number of offenders who have tested positive for the virus statewide, can be found here: https://www.ncdps.gov/our-organization/adult-correction/prisons/prisons-info-covid-19