FILE - Prison, jail, inmates

(The Center Square) – As inmates in state prisons continue to cope with COVID-19, North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials have rolled out a new plan to test more than 20,000 employees in the state’s prison system.

The plan will offer direct testing to Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice (ACJJ) employees, who work in 350 facilities, offices and other off-site branches across the state, starting Monday.

“The continued health and safety of our dedicated staff are our priorities as they bravely carry out our public safety mission through this pandemic,” ACJJ Chief Deputy Secretary Tim Moose said in a statement.

DPS spokesman Jerry Higgins said Friday the department has stopped releasing data on COVID-19 cases among staff because cases were self-reported. At least five staff members tested positive for the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, according to news reports from April.

As of Thursday, active outbreaks have been reported at 11 North Carolina prisons, according to DPS’ daily report. 

Nearly half of the 1,317 tests on prisoners have come back positive. DPS said more than 500 of those of who were positive, about 78 percent, have recovered and were removed from quarantine.

DPS has been under pressure to contain the virus after a group of advocates and inmates sued Gov. Roy Cooper and other high-ranking officials for the release of certain prisoners and for COVID-19 prevention measures to be implemented.

“Staff have worked incredibly hard to contain this virus, to treat offenders who contracted it, and to maintain order. I appreciate their hard work and am grateful that so many offenders have recovered,” Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee said.

After mass outbreaks at two of the prisons, ACJJ paid for and administered testing for all of the inmates at the facilities and offered testing to the staff.

The new plan, announced Thursday, will allow ACJJ employees to set up testing appointments at FastMed Urgent Care locations through May 31.

The cost of the tests, which will be processed through LabCorp, will be billed to the State Health Plan through the state treasurer’s office.

Representatives for the treasurer’s office could not immediately provide a cost estimate for the more than 21,000 tests. However, LabCorp's listed price for health plan tests is at least $100 each.

A cost-share waiver that covers COVID-19-related treatments and tests also is available to AJCC employees who are State Plan members through June 1, officials said.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.