The truth about COVID-19 testing for DPS employees

May 05, 2020

By now you may have heard that on-site mass COVID-19 testing by medical personnel for correctional and probation/parole personnel is on hold.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced yesterday that he would release the 20,000 test kits he had secured for other use because of unwillingness on the part of the Department of Public Safety to cooperate in the testing process.

Here’s the truth about the situation.

How did we get here?

With the announcement of a massive outbreak of COVID-19 among inmates at Neuse Correctional in Goldsboro in addition to reports of cases at other prisons and probation/parole offices, it became clear to SEANC that personnel all over the state are in clear danger. At the urging of many concerned members, SEANC asked DPS officials to provide a test for all employees. DPS officials said they had tried finding tests but did not find any company with the capacity to conduct that many tests. However, SEANC asked if DPS would be interested in us reaching out to the State Health Plan to see if they could help. The response from DPS was yes, any and all help would be appreciated.

What happened next?

SEANC then asked the State Health Plan and Treasurer Folwell to get involved. It’s in the best interests of the health of the Plan for fewer state employees to need treatment for the virus. Folwell was able to secure 20,000 tests from Mako Medical – enough to test every correctional and community corrections employee at DPS. We planned to use the network of providers who signed on to the Clear Pricing Project to administer the tests, perhaps even setting up remote testing sites in prison parking lots – provided that DPS allowed that to happen.

So why isn’t it happening?

At first, DPS expressed thanks to the Treasurer and set up a task force inside the Department to work with the State Health Plan. But after a week of calls between SEANC leadership, DPS officials and the Treasurer, DPS said they would not agree to make the on-site tests happen. The department is greatly concerned that too many employees will test positive and be forced to miss work. This will lead to mass staff shortages that will be unmanageable at our already understaffed prisons.

While SEANC doesn’t disagree that this is a valid concern, we believe the alternative is much worse. Without testing, staff members are going about their lives, sometimes symptom-free, and possibly spreading the illness to coworkers, at-risk family members and even strangers they meet at the gas station on the way home. In short, employees have a right to know and the department has a duty of care.

Where do we go from here?

It is our belief that a staff shortage is inevitable as the virus spreads. It’s only a matter of time. With proper testing, at least we can control the spread. SEANC must demand that the department find a solution that involves on-site testing of all employees by medical personnel.

SEANC will continue to work on this issue. If you have a question or concern, please reach out to our SEANC Cares team by clicking here.