ALBEMARLE — The North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) has recorded five positive cases among their staff at the Albemarle Correctional Institution, spurring worry that another prison outbreak, like the one in eastern North Carolina’s Neuse Correctional, which had almost 500 positive cases, could be occurring in Stanly County.
John Bull, communications officer for NCDPS on prisons, told SCJ on June 15, “We currently have 31 staff members who have reported or have tested positive and are out of work, including five of them in Albemarle, and this is all recently within the last week or so.”
Bull said prisons have taken over four-dozen actions in line with CDC and state health department guidelines and are hopeful these are working overall. The prisoners are kept in self-contained units and do not interact with prisoners from other units. This helps keep any contamination from spreading throughout the prison.
As far as they are able, NCDPS also does not allow staff to move from unit to unit or interact with staff from other units. Staff who have any symptoms are asked to stay home, and temperature checks are done throughout the day and prior to entry. Visitation has been entirely eliminated since March 16.
“It’s been a lot of work, but we’re sitting here in the grand scheme of things with 30-some staff [out of 14,000] out with it, and around 55 offenders [out of 31,000] still have this,” said Bull. “And hopefully there isn’t an outbreak in the offender population at Albemarle, but this has happened to other prisons. And we will address this and we will make this work. We will do what is necessary.”
The Neuse Correctional outbreak made headlines after the prison in Goldsboro saw more and more positive tests over a short period.
“It rose from two offenders, to seven, to eight, to 18, to 19. I think we got up to 39 or so when we decided to test everyone,” Bull said of the Neuse outbreak. “And the data and test results came back, and there were like 460 offenders who had tested positive for COVID-19 and didn’t know it. They had no symptoms, they had no signs, nothing. And they went through the medical quarantine period. They are presumed recovered under the CDC guidelines and 90% of them never had symptoms.”
Despite the fact that the vast majority showed no signs, Bull said the danger is that for those with pre-existing conditions, the disease is extremely deadly. Three of the five deaths from COVID-19 in state prisons happened from the Neuse outbreak, and all five of the deaths occurred in those with pre-existing conditions.
“They all had underlying health conditions. That’s one of the keys, is the underlying health conditions. This virus definitely impacts those people the most by far.”