Durham sheriff proposes mass testing at county jail after COVID-19 outbreak

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — After an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Durham County Detention Center, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office is taking steps to mass test inmates and workers at the jail.

In August, 29 inmates tested positive for COVID-19. This is the second outbreak at the Durham County Detention Center since 8 employees tested positive for the virus in April.

Alexander Reginald Pettiway, a 55-year-old senior detention officer at the facility, died on April 25th from complications related to COVID-19.

“In order to ensure that we don’t have a mass outbreak in the facility, we need to come up with and establish some sort of plan for testing,” said Anthony Prignano, Chief Deputy for Detention Services.

During Tuesday’s Durham Board of County Commissioner’s meeting, Sheriff Clarence Birkhead gave a presentation on a plan for mass testing inmates and employees.

The plan includes re-testing all of those housed within the facility until zero cases are reported.

The Sheriff’s Office plan also includes retesting all employees that work with the Detention Center.

In addition, moving forward they plan to test all residents transferring from the quarantine POD to the general population.

Birkhead said they would also like to test 20 workers every two weeks, which will cost the county anywhere between $3,500 to $5,400 per testing, depending on which vendor they use.

The Board of County Commissioners will come back and vote on a mass testing plan for the Durham County Detention Center at a later date.

Meanwhile, the group, Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighbors (Durham CAN), is demanding more transparency when it comes to the COVID-19 testing at the Durham County Detention Center.

Drew Doll, a member of the Durham CAN strategy team, said the group has sent three letters to the Durham County Health Department, asking that COVID-19 data from the jail be released to the public.

“Think if it was your dad, mom, brother sister, or friend who was detained,” Doll said. “You would want to know what risks they are in at that detention center.”

CBS 17 reached out to the Durham County Health Department to see if they plan to release COVID-19 data from the Durham County Detention Center, but we have not yet heard back.

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