CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - More than two dozen correction officer cadets crowded into a classroom at a training center in Valdese, N.C. for their final exam on Thursday.
The cadets had spent much of the past month in a basic training court preparing them to work on the front lines of the state’s prisons.
After spending two hours taking their exam, the cadets were then notified one of their classmates had tested positive for COVID-19.
This story is based on an interview with a cadet in the class, who spoke with WBTV on the condition we not reveal their name for fear they would face retaliation for voicing their concerns in the media.
The cadet also provided documentation confirming prison leadership notified the class of the positive test.
The cadet said that the training class originally started on March 3 but was put on hold after two weeks of training because of the pandemic.
After a week of the cadets working back at their respective prisons, the classes resumed at a training facility in Valdese, N.C.
The training, according to the cadet, involved physical exercises in which cadets came within six feet of each other and were using the same equipment.
On Thursday, the cadet told WBTV, the 26 students in the class assembled to take their final exam of the course.
During the morning, the cadet said, the instructor giving the exam was pulled out of the room by other staff and then the class was told to go on break.
After the break, the cadet said, the students were given gloves and a mask and told to finish their exam.
“We came back in, finished our tests, they gave us our results and then gave us a sheet of paper,” the cadet said.
“Please be aware that we have been notified that a student in your Basic Correctional Officer class has tested positive for COVID-19,” the letter began.
“In efforts to provide you with assistance regarding this exposure, we are asking that you self-quarantine and contact your healthcare provider for further testing. If you are not able to get your healthcare provider to test you, please seek testing from your local Healthcare Department,” the letter continued.
The letter did not provide any additional guidance on how the cadets could get tested, despite the fact that NCDPS had begun random sample testing of inmates and staff at a prison in the eastern part of North Carolina.
A spokesman for the prison system did not provide any information about the exposure when asked on Thursday and did not answer a question from a WBTV reporter as to why the cadets were made to finish taking their exam before being notified of the exposure.
“COVID-19 testing is done in accordance with the guidelines established by the Centers for Diseases Control and the State Health Department,” spokesman John Bull said.
After WBTV first aired a TV report of this incident on Thursday evening, the cadet told WBTV that members of the class were told they could get tested at the Burke County Health Department on Friday morning.