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Neuse Correctional Institute has first COVID-19 death among 465 cases as tensions rise

Posted April 21, 2020 10:43 a.m. EDT
Updated April 24, 2020 10:35 a.m. EDT

— An inmate at Neuse Correctional Institution has died of COVID-19 complications. This is the first coronavirus death of an individual in custody of the Neuse Correctional Institution, and the second death of an inmate at a North Carolina State Prison.

The Goldsboro facility has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the prison system, with a cumulative total of 465 reported cases, up from 458 just three days ago. 

The patient tested positive for COVID-19 on April 18, 2020. He was hospitalized on April 20, 2020. His condition worsened, and he died at the hospital on April 23, 2020.

“Any death is a tragedy, and we are doing our best to try and flatten the curve of COVID-19 in Prisons,” said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons.

The patient was in his late seventies and had underlying health conditions, according to officials. Given his family’s right to privacy and the confidentiality of prison offender records, the Department of Public Safety said they will not further identify the individual.

Tensions in the prison

Tensions have been heightened in the prison due to the number of cases, as inmates worry about lack of masks or protective equipment.

A woman whose 53-year-old brother is an inmate at Neuse says pressure is building inside the prison as more and more people are diagnosed with coronavirus.

The Neuse Correctional Institution has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the prison system, with a cumulative total of 465 virus cases reported to state health officials in less than three weeks. That's the largest outbreak anywhere in the state to date.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her brother's identity, said conditions behind the walls are deteriorating as staff and officials grapple with the fast-spreading outbreak.

"He said they have not had a clean mask in 2 weeks. Their bedding has not been cleaned since February," she told WRAL News. "He's got two people, elderly gentlemen, three feet away from him that have been sick for 10 days and are getting no medical attention."

He told her an elderly man with a fever collapsed in the lunch line today.

"It's not right. Yes, they are prisoners, inmates," she said. "But they have loved ones that love them and they need help in there."

Her brother, she says, has tested negative, but she's not sure how longer that will last. He says he's surrounded by people who are showing symptoms. He's supposed to be released in September.

"They're scared to death. I would be. Anybody would be. "You're shut in there with everyone, you go outside for 15 minutes a day, and the place is running rampant with this virus."

Prison officials at the Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro said they quickly subdued an inmate who punched four staff members Tuesday morning.

There were only minor injuries, and the inmate was restrained, officials said

"It's a difficult situation," agreed Department of Public Safety spokesman John Bull. "We certainly don't have experience with a mass contamination of an infectious disease. "

Bull says the majority of inmates at the jail have tested positive for the virus and are under quarantine, so those who have tested negative have been moved away from them to the extent possible.

"They're being treated," he said of the inmates with COVID-19. "There's every effort made from keeping this from being spread any further."

Also, over the weekend, the Division of Prisons closed down Johnston Correctional Institution, relocating prisoners elsewhere, so that its staff of around 100 could be reassigned to Neuse to help the staff there.

Bull said DPS is concerned for the safety of the inmates and the staff at the Goldsboro facility.

"Tensions are running high there in the offender population and I'm sure the staff is as anxious as everybody else," Bull told WRAL News. "This virus is a very difficult thing to deal with. It spreads, and you don't know who has it, and you don't know if you may have it. You don't show symptoms."

NC shuts down Smithfield prison to shift staff to Goldsboro facility with major coronavirus outbreak

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