CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Juvenile Justice System in North Carolina has provided COVID-19 testing to all juveniles in custody, and all of the results came back negative.
Following implementation last month of a plan to provide COVID-19 testing for youths housed currently in state secure custody facilities, final test results received this week show that all juveniles who agreed to undergo testing were not infected by the coronavirus at the time they were tested.
In mid-June, officials with the state Juvenile Justice section of N.C. Department of Public Safety provided testing to all juveniles in secure custody in the four youth development centers and seven juvenile detention centers operated by the state.
This occurred following publication of a June 9 memo from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services updating testing guidance to recommend COVID-19 testing of all residents of congregant facilities, regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus.
Going forward during the coronavirus pandemic, all youths entering juvenile justice facilities will be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their admission.
Officials say that if the juvenile and/or guardian refuses to allow testing, the juvenile must remain in quarantine for 14 days. Juveniles who are tested will stay in quarantine until testing results have been determined, and up to 14 days.
“We are thankful that to this point, no child in one of North Carolina’s state operated juvenile justice facilities has been infected with the coronavirus,” said William Lassiter, deputy secretary for Juvenile Justice. “These results are good, but we will not relax our efforts to protect the health and safety of our staff and the juveniles in our care. We will continue to provide testing opportunities to new admissions to our secure custody facilities to identify those with COVID-19 for monitoring and appropriate health care, so that we don’t spread the virus.”
Lassiter also said that wearing required masks, practicing social distancing and following other guidelines will continue to be critical in efforts to decrease the risk of transmitting the virus within Juvenile Justice facilities.
Juveniles were also provided COVID-19 testing in June at two juvenile detention facilities operated locally through sheriffs’ departments in Mecklenburg and Madison counties; all test results at both these facilities were negative for the coronavirus; these facilities are also testing newly admitted juveniles.
The Durham County Youth Home, upon advice of the local health director, will provide COVID-19 testing to juveniles there who show symptoms of potential infection. The Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center provides testing to juveniles who meet COVID-19 screening requirements or who are exhibiting symptoms.
After four staff members self-reported testing positive for the coronavirus (one each at Stonewall Jackson and Chatham YDCs, and two staff members at Edgecombe YDC), in May all juveniles were tested at Stonewall Jackson in Cabarrus County and Edgecombe YDCs; one unit of juveniles were tested at Chatham YDC, since only that one unit had been exposed to the staff member infected with COVID-19.
To date, there have been no confirmed COVID-19 infections of youths in in North Carolina's Juvenile Justice facilities.
All Juvenile Justice staff members have been offered COVID-19 testing through an initiative announced in May for free, confidential and convenient testing to all employees of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.
Some operational changes in the Juvenile Justice section since mid-March have included:
- Suspending visitation and volunteer activities at all juvenile justice facilities, until conditions are deemed safe. All non-essential volunteers, contractors, and vendors are prohibited from entry. Contractors/staff undergo screening procedures prior to entry.
- Placing all juvenile detention center/crisis and assessment center admissions in medical room confinement for up to 14 days or until cleared by a medical provider to join the general population.
- Screening all juveniles prior to transportation. If a juvenile is feverish or has a respiratory illness, the juvenile shall not be transported.
- Placing into medical room confinement all juveniles in secure custody with symptoms while investigating the source of their medical issues and during provision of medical care. This is being done to prevent the spread of coronavirus if it emerges in the population.
- Rescheduling all non-critical off-site medical appointments.
- Presenting specific educational information and training at facilities for staff members and youths around COVID-19 safety precautions including washing of hands, social distancing, information about how the coronavirus is transmitted and wearing of face masks.
- Posting informational literature in all facilities to stress the washing of hands and other preventive measures juveniles, staff and visitors can take to reduce the spread of diseases.
- Decreasing the number of youths in detention through the utilization of electronic monitoring.
- Suspending home visits for youth committed to a youth development center and deferring the requirement that a juvenile complete all pre‐release home visits before being release from a youth development center.
- Increasing the number of phone calls permitted between juveniles and their families.
- Increasing the use of telehealth services, to include the provision of mental health services at detention in addition to youth development centers.
- Handling necessary court hearings via videoconference.