COVID-19 Cases Remain Low in State Prisons

COVID-19 Cases Remain Low in State Prisons

4:18pm Aug 16, 2021
Just 21 of the state prison system’s nearly 29,000 inmates have an active case of COVID-19 as of Monday, according to data from the Department of Public Safety. GERRY BROOME/AP

Though COVID-19 is surging across North Carolina, case counts are still low among those incarcerated in the state’s prisons. Just 21 of the system’s nearly 29,000 inmates have an active case of COVID-19 as of Monday, according to data from the Department of Public Safety. 

Dr. Arthur Campbell, the chief medical officer for the prison system, attributes the low numbers in part to the same mitigation measures that have been in place throughout much of the pandemic, like mandatory masking. But he also says vaccination has made a big difference.

“We're about 63% of our offenders are vaccinated, we really estimate that there's probably another 18% of those unvaccinated offenders who have had COVID and have some level of immunity," says Campbell. "So that really effectively, you know, puts the overall immunity for the offender population close to 80%.”

Campbell says they are deploying more resources to prisons in areas with high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

“Quite frankly, we do see historically that when the county cases, you know, rise, we have seen subsequently the cases rise in the prisons that are in those counties,” he says.

In Columbus County, where cases are rising sharply, Campbell says they’ve increased testing at two area prisons and are running clinics to try to increase vaccination rates among inmates and staff. 

Rates among staff are still on the low side – Campbell says about 50% have not gotten their shots.  A new executive order does require prison employees to show proof of vaccination by September 1 or submit to weekly testing. Unvaccinated staff members are currently tested biweekly. 
 

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