There has been a large COVID-19 outbreak at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine.
Jerry Higgins, a Communications Officer for Adult Correction at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, said that as of Friday, Sept. 11, 100 of the 856 offenders housed in the prison had active cases of COVID-19 and three staff members were out of work due to COVID-19.
This outbreak is not the only one the Division of Prisons has seen during the ongoing pandemic. Other large outbreaks have been reported at Albemarle, Lumberton and Neuse prisons.
As of Monday, Sept. 14, the NCDPS website showed 165 cumulative positive cases at Avery-Mitchell and the statewide cumulative positive cases in the Division of Prisons was 2,374.
In an email from Higgins, he said they have taken a multitude of actions to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Higgins said offenders who test positive are promptly separated from the rest of the population and placed in medical isolation to “better ensure” they don’t spread the virus.
Higgins said the housing units where positive cases were confirmed are placed under medical quarantine for close observation. Those inside receive temperature checks twice daily.
“All housing units at the prisons are cohorted, kept in groups, to prevent the mixing of offenders in one housing unit from those in other housing units,” his email read. “These ‘cohorted’ housing units go to chow together, to recreation time together, to pill call together, etc. This is a precautionary virus-mitigation strategy to better prevent the spread of the virus in a prison.”
Any offender who subsequently shows symptoms of the virus is moved into medical isolation and tested for COVID-19.
Higgins said each prison has medical protocols in place in the event someone needs advanced medical care.
Transfers are still happening during the pandemic, but at a smaller scale and with safety precautions in place.
“Transfers at Avery-Mitchell Correctional are limited to those deemed necessary for medical or security reasons,” Higgins said. “Any offenders who are transferred into the facility go directly into medical quarantine without contact with the prison general population.”
Higgins said staff at the prisons are encouraged to be tested for COVID-19 and they can be tested by a medical provider of their choice or through DPS.
“The Division of Prisons is working hard to protect the health and safety of the staff and the offenders, and this remains the top priority in this first-in-a-century pandemic,” Higgins said.