RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - Despite recent declines in COVID-19 cases in some state prisons, nearly 4,000 air purifiers are being installed in the ductwork of 53 North Carolina prisons to combat the spread of coronavirus.
In 2020, several outbreaks were reported in the state’s prison system, including at Pender Correctional Institution; the Division of Prisons responded by implementing dozens of measures to help prevent COVID-19 from entering the prisons and to control any infections.
Costing a total of $1.8 million, the IWave air purifiers work by making the virus particles heavier and easier to filter.
“The health and safety of the staff and the offenders in our custody is our number one priority,” said Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee. “These devices will help to stop the airborne spread of the virus in our facilities and is another tool to use in our ongoing efforts to mitigate the impact of this awful virus.”
Installation is underway by prison facility management staff, assisted by engineers and the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Safety, Occupational and Environmental Health, and is expected to be finished by early February.
“We look forward to seeing air quality benefits across North Carolina’s prison system for years to come,” said Ishee.
According to the news release, the air purifiers reduce pathogens, allergens, particles, smoke, and odors in the air without producing harmful byproducts and are in use in other prison systems across the county as well as at Wake Forest and Duke universities, and at Duke Medical Center.
The Department of Public Safety will roll out COVID-19 vaccines to the offender population in guidance with the CDC and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Healthcare workers are already receiving vaccines in accordance with county-by-county policies as standard for all front-line healthcare workers.
Ishee said during a press availability Thursday, “We’re hearing a very similar message that I think we’re hearing across our communities in North Carolina and across the country. There are both staff and offenders that are interested in taking the vaccine immediately as soon as it’s available. Some are not interested at all.”
At this time, the vaccine will remain optional for those incarcerated.
The Chief Deputy Secretary for Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Tim Moose, also reiterated that the prison system has implemented strong protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“The idea that our prisons are a petri-dish of infections is just not true. We had outbreaks in the facilities as have non-incarcerated group settings from college dormitories to nursing homes. Working with our public partners, in particular the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, we have devised testing regimens for staff and offenders. We test those who enter the system and those who exit. We use those test results to reduce the spread of the virus, keeping us all that much safer,” Moose said. “Hospitalizations in our state outside the prison walls has doubled in the last 30 days. Ours has remained stable at around 10 on any given day.”