The first North Carolina prisoner to test positive for COVID-19 is a man in his 60s housed in the minimum custody unit of the Caledonia Correctional Complex in Tillery, state corrections officials announced on Thursday night.

The Department of Public Safety declined to make public the man’s name, citing his right to medical privacy and the confidentiality of prison offender records.

“We have prepared long and hard for this day,” said Prisons Commissioner Todd Ishee. “This is not a surprise, and we are following the infectious disease protocols we have in place for exactly this type of situation. Our top priority is the health and safety of our staff and the men and women in our care.”

The inmate is in isolation at the prison and is being treated by medical staff assigned to the facility.

He first exhibited symptoms of a viral infection on March 24, according to the DPS, and was promptly quarantined and tested for COVID-19 the next day. The results came back on April 1. The inmate is in stable condition. 

Officials say they have taken precautions to prevent anyone else from becoming infected. They are also trying to identify persons who may have had unprotected contact with the inmate. Those individuals will be monitored and tested as warranted, the DPS says. 

In addition, the entire minimum custody unit has been placed on quarantine, and the infected inmate’s housing dorm is on lockdown except for recreational time. 

Inmates and staff members alike are being issued masks to wear. An additional shipment of masks and other personal protective equipment have been sent to the prison, and additional sanitation regimens are also underway.

According to the DPS’s statement, the state’s Division of Prisons “has taken a substantial number of additional actions to prepare for the emergence of COVID-19 in the state prisons and, to reduce the chances it could spread.”

For the past month, corrections officials say that any of the roughly 35,000 inmates in the state prison system who have fevers, cough, and symptoms of respiratory illness have been quarantined from the prison general population. New offenders arriving at the state’s 50 prisons are quarantined for 14 days following an initial medical screening for potential COVID-19 symptoms. Inmates’ transportation movements have been limited to only that are court-ordered, high-priority, or health-care related, and the inmates are screened before getting on and off the bus. 

Earlier this week, a staff member at the Maury Correctional Institution tested positive for coronavirus, which he had acquired from a family member. The prison shut down two of its six units. Public health researcher Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein told the Carolina Public Press that it’s unlikely the staff member didn’t transmit it to inmates. 

On March 19, a coalition of prisoner advocacy groups, including the Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project and the state ACLU, asked Governor Cooper to begin taking steps to reduce North Carolina’s prison population to “partially mitigate a catastrophic outbreak” of COVID-19 throughout the system.

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