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COVID-19 numbers remain low at jail, state prison in Rowan

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Detention Center has seen few COVID-19 cases, but three new jail-transferred inmates at Piedmont Correctional Institution have tested positive, officials said.

Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county jail, has seen no other positive reports among inmates since a single positive in April and have continued safety efforts to prevent new cases. The state prison inmates, meanwhile, remain in isolation after testing positive and transferring into the jail, said John Bull, communications officer for the N.C. Department of Public Safety. The prison is also a designated intake facility where new offenders from the county jails are processed to begin their prison sentences, Bull said.

It’s not clear from which county jails the transfers had been held. He did reiterate offenders have not been in contact with the prison’s general population.

In July, the entire prison population was tested at Piedmont Correctional Institute, located at 1245 Camp Road. Then, 13 offenders tested positive for COVID-19. While there are hundreds housed at the Rowan County Jail and its annex, there have been more than 1,700 people tested at the prison.

“All of those offenders have met CDC and NCDHHS (N.C. Department of Health and Human Services) criteria to be considered presumed recovered from the virus,” Bull said. “As you know, the vast majority of offenders who test positive for the virus recover.”

All new offenders from county jails are immediately placed in medical isolation and they do not come into contact with the rest of the prison population, Bull said.

The new offenders are promptly tested for COVID-19 and anyone who tests positive remains in medical isolation until they meet CDC and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines to be considered presumed recovered.

The prison’s medical isolation and medical quarantine protocols are based on CDC and N.C. DHHS guidance. The protocols are as follows — offenders who tested positive are moved into medical isolation and their housing units are placed under medical quarantine for close observation and twice-daily temperature checks.

If any offender subsequently developed symptoms of COVID-19, or if contact tracing indicates potential exposure to someone who is COVID-positive, they are moved into medical isolation, Bull said.

Sheriff Auten said several steps are taken to prevent any spread of the coronavirus in the Rowan County Jail, which include: cleaning common areas several times a day, as well as sanitizing several times per shift the handrails, doorknobs, pull handles and push bars.

Auten said lobby areas and lobby equipment are also cleaned and sanitized. Wipes are provided to everyone entering the facility.

The staff is mandated to wear masks or face coverings inside the detention center. Also, gloves are mandated when possible and the frequent changing of gloves are encouraged.

Masks are made available to the inmates. Social distancing is maintained when possible. The detention center staff limits the movement of inmates between the two facilities, 115 W. Liberty St. and 400 Grace Church Road.

Before anyone who has been arrested enters the jail, they are scanned and evaluated. So are staff before each shift. Any inmate with symptoms is isolated until they are cleared by the nursing staff.

Another way they’ve minimized the spread of COVID-19, Auten said, is to discontinue non-essential visitors into the facility.

“We use video visitation and now remote visitation. There is no direct contact with the inmate and the visitor,” Auten said.

He said there is occasional direct contact from the inmates with their attorney.

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