GOLDSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) -- As more than half of the 700 inmates at Neuse Correctional Institution test positive for COVID-19, tensions are high between staff members and inmates as relatives worry about their loved ones.
On Tuesday, an inmate accused of throwing punches is facing charges of assault on staff members at Neuse Correctional.
Authorities said four staff members were treated for minor injuries. One staff member has broken bones.
Relatives of inmates said they are concerned. An ABC 11 viewer shared her concern about her husband, an inmate living at Neuse Correctional who tested negative for COVID-19 but is living dormitory-style among 700 inmates, with more than half testing positive for the virus, including nearly 20 staff members.
"I know my faith is strong but I'm scared. You don't want you family member to die in there," she said.
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Over the weekend, the Department of Public Safety suspended operations at Johnston Correctional, moving that staff to Neuse to handle the outbreak.
"They are right there on each other. He says one of the guys that caught it was his top bunk mate. A lot of those guys are terrified. They need to do more than what they are doing," the wife said.
She said her 57-year-old husband is a nonviolent offender with underlying health conditions and is set to be released in 6 months. But she wants him home now.
So far, DPS said it has transferred 60 inmates under the following criteria to community settings where they will be supervised by a corrections officer:
- Pregnant offenders
- Offenders age 65 and older with underlying health conditions
- Female offenders age 50 and older with health conditions and a release date in 2020
- Offenders age 65 and older with a release date in 2020
- Offenders already on home leave with a release date in 2020
- Offenders on work release with a release date in 2020
But under these guidelines, the woman's husband is still under the age limit and will likely stay at Neuse for the next six months.
"Trying to get people to social distance is nearly impossible in a dormitory style setting like that," said Pam Walker, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Safety. "We've done a number of things to try and help mitigate and reduce the spread."
DPS said 98 percent of those testing positive at Neuse are asymptomatic.
Statewide, 80,000 masks have been given to staff and inmates across its 52 prisons.
Walker said hand sanitizer lotion is being provided, and staff is frequently deep cleaning.
"We've brought in what we call Breezers," Walker said. "It's these big machines that are able to put out a chemical to clean large areas in a quick amount of time."
So far no one has died at Neuse Correctional since its first case earlier this month.