By North Carolina Health News staff

More than 250 inmates with COVID-19 at Goldsboro prison 

After 30 inmates initially tested positive for coronavirus in Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro, the Department of Public Safety announced it would test all 700 inmates in the facility, starting with those who were most likely exposed.

On Wednesday, DPS tested 300 inmates at the Neuse facility.

“We have the results of those tests and over half of those came back positive,” said DPS Sec. Erik Hooks during the Friday COVID-19 press conference webcast from the emergency operations center.

At time of publication, 259 inmates within the Goldsboro facility have tested positive, according to DPS spokesman John Bull. The department has a dashboard showing the number of tests completed and the number of positive cases. The test results are coming in so quickly for the Goldboro facility that the dashboard was behind on Friday afternoon, Bull explained.

The remaining 400 inmates at the facility were tested yesterday, and all 250 staff at the Goldsboro facility were offered a test if they wanted it.

Hooks said that 98 percent of the inmates who recently tested positive for the virus are not showing symptoms.

DPS sent additional medical and security staff to the prison to help treat and contain the outbreak. By Friday, a truckload of extra personal protective equipment had arrived at the facility.

Meanwhile, DPS has slowly begun to release some inmates. However, an emergency lawsuit filed by prison legal advocates says the department should be releasing significantly more people immediately to protect inmates at high risk for COVID-19 complications and to prevent the spread of the virus.

Also today, the NC Supreme Court dismissed the petition made by legal advocates for immediate release of these inmates.

View here: NC Supreme Court order in response to the emergency COVID-19 petition

-Taylor Knopf

Coronavirus by the numbers

According to NCDHHS data, as of Friday morning:

  • 152 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
  • 5,859 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 429 are in the hospital. The hospitalization figure is a snapshot of people with coronavirus on a given day and does not represent all of the North Carolinians who may have been in the hospital throughout the course of the epidemic.
  • More than 72,000 tests have been completed thus far, though not all labs report their negative results to the state, so the actual number of completed coronavirus tests is likely higher.
  • Most of the cases (37 percent) were in people ages 25-49. While 26 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 84 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
  • 55 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes, correctional and residential care facilities.
  • There are 3,128 ventilators in hospitals across the state, and 719 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.

Testing surge working group

State officials will work to ramp up coronavirus testing to get a better idea of the scope of the novel virus’ presence in the state, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday. The state has partnered with East Carolina University, University of North Carolina and Duke with the goal of expanding testing capacity.

“We’re confident that their expertise will tell us more about how the disease spreads,” Cooper said.

Much of the patient testing in the state, beyond the coronavirus tests the state laboratory was processing, developed organically, with universities, hospitals and private labs making their own arrangements to set up drive-thru clinics. But these developments have been uneven, creating shortages in some regions and ample supply in others, Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said.

As of Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services logged more than 70,000 tests from the 13 labs across the state that are processing coronavirus tests. The actual number is higher, since some labs do not report negative results to the state health department.

The testing surge group will look into incorporating new forms of sample collections, from swabs that patients can use on themselves to rapid turnaround tests, she added. Cohen has said in the past the state prioritized testing of people in the high-risk groups in part because of the shortage in gloves, masks and other protective equipment. That shortage remains a barrier to increasing testing capacity across the state, she said on Friday.

“Testing supply challenges are easing somewhat, but we are not out of the woods,” she said. –Liora Engel-Smith

Cooper: NC needs more PPE needed before economy can reopen

In addition to widespread testing capacity, Cooper said the state would need to have enough personal protective equipment before he would consider rolling back the social distancing orders he put in place. Health care professionals will need a steady stream of gloves, masks and gowns to step up testing efforts, including monitoring nursing homes and other congregate living facilities.

“I understand that people are anxious to know which orders may be eased first and when that’s going to happen,” he said. “There’s no perfect sequence or timing. There is health guidance,  business guidance and common sense.” –-Liora Engel-Smith

Fayetteville councilman urges mayor to end curfew

A Fayetteville city councilman wrote a letter today urging the mayor to end the citywide curfew and to ask Gov. Roy Cooper to allow Fayetteville to lead the state by slowly reopening its economy.

“The vast majority of our citizens are responsible, and there is no need for this curfew. You’ve helped to flatten the curve,” Councilman Johnny Dawkins wrote to Mayor Mitch Colvin. “We want to be the first city in the state to open our restaurants, our gyms, our hair salons, our barber shops, and our other retail stores and establishments.”

Dawkins noted that Fayetteville’s economy is largely based on retail sales. He said residents of those businesses are hurting and don’t want to remain unemployed. He also wrote that while it may be too early to open public schools, the mayor should tell the governor to allow the city’s private schools and charter schools to reopen with sufficient social distancing.

Dawkins posted the letter on Facebook, where it had received 170 comments within five hours, many in support and others saying it is too soon to reopen.

Colvin was among those leaving a comment.

The mayor agreed that the city needs to get its economy rolling again but added that “we need a balanced and thoughtful approach” to reopening the city.

Colvin said he has asked the city attorney to have options available for the council to discuss, including whether to require masks and other protective gear be worn publicly and whether to require social distancing in businesses and public spaces

Fayetteville is the largest North Carolina city to invoke a curfew. It was done at Colvin’s request. As of Monday, Fayetteville police had received 123 calls concerning curfew violations. Of those, 27 resulted in warnings. No citations had been issued and no arrests had been made, said Sgt. Jeremy Glass, a police spokesman. – Greg Barnes

Senate Democrats offer their suggestions for COVID legislation

In a phone call with reporters Friday morning, leaders of the state’s Democratic senate caucus said they’ve been meeting to come up with suggestions for bills to be considered when the General Assembly returns to Raleigh on April 28.

Senate minority leader Dan Blue (D-Raleigh) said thematic working groups have come up with recommendations he believed would have bipartisan support. He said they wanted to work in advance of the legislative session because he believed they would have only limited time to get their work done.

“One of the issues that’s front and center among our caucus members is the whole issue of Medicaid expansion,” Blue said. “We still think that that’s a very important issue, and one that would seem to naturally flow from this crisis that we’ve been in.

“By the same token, we’ve got sense enough to know that, probably since we’ve fought about it for two years, it’s not going to be a consensus item and it’s not going to readily be passed on the first day.”

Among the health care priority items offered by the Democrats are:

  • Supporting an emergency waiver request to the federal government to extend Medicaid benefits to more people
  • Waive requirements that patients always be seen “in-network”
  • Bring North Carolina law in line with new federal legislation in order to cover COVID testing
  • Channeling $6 million in new federal funding to the state’s food banks
  • Create a “Emergency COVID-19 Rapid Testing Program” using federal funds
  • Additional dollars for mental health and crisis services, for services to homeless people

– Rose Hoban

Fort Bragg reports first two coronavirus deaths

Fort Bragg today reported its first two deaths caused by the coronavirus onthe military post in Fayetteville.

Post officials said in a statement that a civilian employee and a contractor who worked on post have died. Both were Cumberland County residents.

“We lost two valued members of our Fort Bragg community last night,” Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, said in the statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families in their time of loss.”

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