One inmate at the Forsyth Correctional Center has been tested for the novel coronavirus, which came back negative, according to the state prison. But now every inmate there, like those at all of North Carolina’s prisons, will be tested for COVID-19, authorities said Friday.
As of Friday, 197 inmates were being held at the correctional center, said Robert Williams, the warden of the minimum-security prison just off North Cherry Street in Winston-Salem. The prison can hold up to 248 inmates. Williams referred questions about the testing plan to the N.C. Division of Adult Correction.
State prison officials have released a plan for testing all inmates and staff members for the novel coronavirus, following a court mandate ordering North Carolina to release a proposal for universal testing by Monday.
John Bull, a spokesman for the N.C. Division of Adult Correction, said it will take at least 60 days to perform COVID-19 tests for all 31,200 inmates in state prisons. Before testing can begin at any prison, state officials will submit their plan for approval by Judge Vince Rozier of Wake Superior Court, Bull said.
In a court hearing earlier this month, Rozier ruled that state prison officials’ failure to test all inmates likely violates the North Carolina Constitution. Rozier’s ruling was part of a lawsuit filed against the state of North Carolina by the NAACP and other advocates for prison inmates.
“This court holds that the risk of irreparable harm is present, including the risk of COVID-19 rapidly spreading through the vulnerable prison population, along with the substantial risk of death and long-lasting disability stemming from the disease,” Rozier said in his ruling.
The state’s plan to test inmates and prison staff members will cost more than $3.3 million, the N.C. Department of Public Safety said in a statement.
“We’ve done some mass testing at prisons with significant outbreaks of this awful virus, but now we are going to test them all, the entire offender population,” said Todd Ishee, the state’s commissioner of prisons.
The tests will be analyzed by LabCorp, with the results transmitted into the N.C. prison division’s medical database. Overall results will continue to be posted on the public-safety department’s website.
COVID-19 tests are already being administered to all new offenders when they arrive at prisons from the county jails, according to the public-safety department.
As of Friday, state officials had performed 2,985 tests on prison inmates, the public-safety department said. A group of 720 inmates tested positive for the virus. The department said 664 inmates have recovered from the virus.
As of Friday, there were 49,840 cases of COVID-19 in the state, with 871 people hospitalized and 1,197 deaths, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported.
Within North Carolina, 712,313 tests for COVID-19 have been completed, the DHHS said.