Mass COVID-19 testing of state prisoners completed

Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee

RALEIGH – State prison officials say 2.1% of prisoners in the state system have tested positive for COVID-19 after a six-week mass testing operation.

Of the 29,062 offenders who were tested during mass testing, a total of 619 tested positive. N.C. prison officials say this is a lower percentage than 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 staff and North Carolina National Guard soldiers.

The entire current prison population now has been tested for COVID-19, according to state officials. 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.

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.

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, say state officials. 

NCDHHS statistics show the COVID-19 positivity rates in North Carolina have averaged between 7 and 9% over the last month, which is higher than the 2.1% rate found in North Carolina prisons during 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