How NC prisons are getting a handle on COVID-19

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reported 27 active cases across state prisons this week. The number is a significant change from the more than 400 cases found inside Neuse Correctional Institute this time last year.

Video Transcript

SAMANTHA KUMMERER: Sanitation's underway, active cases down to 27, and no facilities in the red. Things appear to be getting better. But the road to get here was tough both for the people inside, and their families locked out.

- It was-- it was trying. It seemed like it went by really slowly because, at one time, I wasn't able to see him.

SAMANTHA KUMMERER: Lisa's son was incarcerated for eight years before COVID-19 hit, but she says this last year was the hardest yet.

- We just struggled. We struggled through it. He kept his head up, and I kept mine up. And we just-- we made it through with the help of God.

SAMANTHA KUMMERER: Her son is serving his time at the Wake Correctional Center. A few months ago, he caught COVID-19, joining the list of more than 100 individuals at his facility and more than 8,000 statewide.

- He didn't have it real severe, but he had, like, headache, sneezing, some of the more mild symptoms.

SAMANTHA KUMMERER: While her son recovered, the state reports more than 50 inmates and 12 staff died from the virus. Cases got really bad this winter, with more than 400 active infections among offenders, and 700 staff out due to COVID-19.

Concerns over living conditions and transfers sparking civil rights groups to file a lawsuit against the state, demanding increased testing and a reduction in the population. The settlement leading the state to accelerate the release of 3,500 additional inmates. The state already reporting a 16% decrease in offenders since last March.

TODD ISHEE (ON PHONE): We believe our prisons are safer because of the density strategies that we've put in place. Prisons were not built with social distancing in mind.

SAMANTHA KUMMERER: Vaccination efforts also underway, with half of the offenders scheduled to be partially vaccinated by next week, including Lisa's son. And she says resuming in-person visits, another light for families kept out for so long.

- I couldn't go to sleep the night before. I was just so glad to be able to go see him, you know, because like I said, talking to him on the phone is fine, but to actually see him, you know, see him in person, that just warmed my heart.

SAMANTHA KUMMERER: However, like the rest of us, the prisons are hardly out of the woods quite yet.

TODD ISHEE (ON PHONE): Certainly not letting our guard down, and are going to keep all of our COVID safety protocols in place until-- until the public health guidance changes, you know, because we-- we certainly do not want to see any type of backsliding. We've got great momentum going, and we're going to keep that up.

SAMANTHA KUMMERER: Samantha Kummerer, ABC 11 Eyewitness News.