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COVID-19 outbreak surges at Forsyth County jail. 30 inmates and six staff now infected
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COVID-19 outbreak surges at Forsyth County jail. 30 inmates and six staff now infected

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A COVID-19 outbreak at the Forsyth County Detention Center surged over the weekend to now include 30 inmates and six staff members.

The increase was disclosed Tuesday in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ semiweekly reports on long-term care and correctional facilities.

DHHS’ first report on the outbreak from Dec. 4 listed five staff members and four inmates from the center at 201 N. Church St. in Winston-Salem. Friday’s report had the same count.

DHHS lists COVID-19 cases and deaths on the day they are confirmed by medical providers and public health officials, so individuals may have been infected or died days before their case is counted.

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough and LaShanda Millner, spokeswoman for the county sheriff's office, could not be immediately reached for comment on the COVID-19 case surge.

County Health Director Joshua Swift also could not be reached for comment.

In a separate outbreak, the N.C. Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice reported Dec. 4 that Forsyth Correctional Center, the minimum-security state prison at 307 Craft Drive, had 94 inmates and six staff members infected with COVID-19.

As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the division’s dashboard listed 119 overall COVID-19 cases in Forsyth Correctional Center. They all were considered as being “presumed recovered.”

The outbreak at Forsyth Correctional Center coincided with a judge deciding to name a third-party expert to scrutinize the COVID-19 response within North Carolina's prison system, which along with the rest of the state experiencing a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

Criticism, protests

There has been criticism from protesters in recent months over how the county detention center has handled the pandemic, in particular claims of inadequate supplies of masks.

The protesters said in October that the jail's medical provider, Wellpath LLC of Nashville, Tenn., initially refused to test inmates for the virus.

The county has a $4.53 million contract with Wellpath for fiscal year 2020-21, said Kyle Wolf, the county’s budget director.

Many demonstrators read letters that they received from inmates who complained about their medical care and the food inside the jail.

The protesters called for the county to end its contract with Wellpath, for regular testing of the inmates for the virus and for the release of low-level offenders from the jail.

Tony Ndege, a protest organizer with Black Lives Matter for Winston-Salem, said in a statement Tuesday that “this problem is far deeper than Wellpath’s corruption and malpractice.”

“The outbreak in the county jail and correction center is the result of an incarceration state that seeks to denigrate the poor, forcing them to plea before trial while ignoring the systemic crimes of the rich.”

Wellpath could not be immediately reached for comment about the outbreak.

Wellpath spokeswoman Judy Lilley said in October that “following the CDC guidelines, all new inmates are quarantined for 14 days.”

“But, those who test positive following their day five COVID-19 test, remained in quarantine until they had two negative COVID tests before they were put into the general population," the statement said.

After-Thanksgiving surge

The Thanksgiving-period COVID-19 surge has led to yet another daily high for hospitalizations in North Carolina, while Forsyth reached 17,000 cases for the pandemic.

DHHS reported that as of noon Tuesday, there were 2,735 North Carolinians hospitalized with COVID-19 infections.

The previous high was 2,577 reported Saturday. The case count jumped by 182 from Monday's report. The hospitalization count was at 2,033 on Dec. 1.

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The Triad region had another record high for hospitalized COVID-19 patients at 803, up 48 from Monday's report and up 44 from the previous daily high of 759 on Sunday.

The region has had more COVID-19 hospitalizations on a daily basis than any other region in the state for the past eight weeks.

Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease expert for Novant Health Inc., said Tuesday that Forsyth, Wake Forest Baptist and Cone Health are receiving waves of COVID-19 patients from community hospitals without the resources to handle that level of care.

"What we have seen in this second wave of COVID is an increase of COVID activity in our rural counties, many that didn't have this level of activity in April and May," Priest said. "It's just hit those rural counties harder this time around.

"Frankly, I'm seeing groups of people not taking the precautions that they need to, and that's driving the activity as well."

Local update

Forsyth County had 250 new cases of COVID-19, DHHS said in Monday's report.

DHHS lowered the COVID-19 death total in Forsyth by one on Tuesday for an overall toll of 189.

Still, there have been 11 reported over the past five days and 23 deaths so far in December.

DHHS lists COVID-19 cases and deaths on the day they are confirmed by medical providers and public health officials, so individuals may have been infected or died days before their case is counted.

The overall case count for Forsyth is 17,035, including 3,514 so far in December. The daily high has been 346 cases on Dec. 9.

Forsyth is listed by DHHS as in the red category for critical community spread, the highest level on the state's alert system.

The percentage of Forsyth COVID-19 tests returning positive results was at 12.5% out of about 1,600 tests on Sunday. The daily record was 12.7% reported for Thursday.

According to Forsyth public health officials, as of 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, 80% of Forsyth residents infected by COVID-19 had recovered, or 13,594 out of 17,035.

There were 3,252 active cases in the county.

DHHS reported it considers the COVID-19 outbreak at Calvary Day School as over. The outbreak affected 17 students and three staff members.

Cooper update

Gov. Roy Cooper did not issue additional restrictions during his COVID-19 update Tuesday.

Cooper said on Dec. 8 that "you can see that North Carolina’s trends are alarming. The virus is upon us with a rapid viciousness like we haven’t seen before.”

With this week’s arrival of the Pfizer vaccine and the expected arrival of the Moderna vaccine next week, Cooper said the state has put its distribution plan into action.

The state expected to receive 85,000 Pfizer doses in this week’s first round.

The projected initial round of Moderna vaccines to N.C. is about 175,000, half of which will be sent to long-term care facilities.

Cooper said the current federal Department of Health and Human Services’ strategy is to inform states by 8 a.m. each Friday about how many doses they would be getting for the next week. Cooper said states have about 12 hours to the U.S. DHHS of the next week’s distribution plans.

Cohen said that if the Moderna vaccines are delivered as projected by the federal government, there should be doses available for use in every county by the end of next week.

Cohen said the Pfizer vaccine will be utilized more in urban areas, and Moderna in rural and suburban areas, because Moderna doesn’t have to be stored in ultra-cold freezers and it is packed in smaller units.

Besides long-term care facilities, Moderna vaccine will be the primary resource at county health departments and pharmacies over time.

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

Journal reporter John Hinton contributed to this story.

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