'This did not have to be this bad': Inmate at Neuse Correctional discusses COVID-19 outbreak

Friday, April 24, 2020
Neuse inmate describes COVID-19 outbreak inside prison
An inmate at Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro has become the second offender at a North Carolina state prison to die of COVID-19.

WAYNE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- An inmate at Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro has become the second offender at a North Carolina state prison to die of COVID-19.

He was in his late 70s and had underlying health conditions, passing away as a result of pre-existing conditions complicated by the coronavirus, according to a news release from the Department of Public Safety. The inmate, who is not being identified due to privacy concerns, tested positive April 18, was hospitalized on the 20th and died on the 23rd.

More than 60 percent of inmates at Neuse have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Othello York is one of at least 444 infected offenders there. In a phone call, he said he had a temperature of 108 and got flu-like symptoms.

RELATED: Family of prison inmate expresses concern over coronavirus outbreak at Neuse Correctional

"I've seen guys spitting up blood," York said. "I've seen guys spitting up clear substance. Guys are having diarrhea. Guys are having headaches, night sweats."

York, who is serving time for drug crimes, said they can't practice social distancing in prison. While inmates are given masks, he said they sleep in bunks that are close together.

"They cram too many inmates in one small space," York said. "This could have been avoided a long time ago. This did not have to be this bad."

Edith Rivera's son is at Neuse and also tested positive for the coronavirus. Rivera, who lives in Florida, didn't want to share her son's name for fear of retaliation. She said her son went to prison to complete a sentence, not a death sentence.

"I hardly sleep thinking that at any moment he can get worse," Rivera said in Spanish over the phone, adding that her son has underlying health conditions. "I could get a call and never see him again."

Video from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety shows a disinfectant machine, known as a power breezer, used to clean prisons.

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety said the Divison of Prisons is taking numerous actions in response to the pandemic.

For example, he said quarantine and isolation protocols are in place at every prison and that all offenders have face masks.

Current data shows less than three percent of the state's 33,400 prisoners have been tested for COVID-19. While all prison staff members will be tested, Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee said during a news conference Wednesday that inamtes will be tested on a case-by-case basis.

Community activist Kerwin Pittman said more prisoners need to be tested.

"It is of utmost disgust and sadness that the staff are not taking more of a leadership role in preventing the spread of COVID-19, especially within Neuse Correctional," Pittman said.

RELATED: Butner federal prison inmates die from COVID-19 complications

Activists are calling for the early release of some prisoners.

"We might have made bad decisions and we're incarcerated but a lot of us are nonviolent," York said.

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