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NC federal prison begins mass COVID testing after six inmates die in eight days

Dan Kane, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in News & Features

RALEIGH, N.C. -- After six coronavirus-related deaths over the past eight days, Butner officials have ordered mass testing for all inmates at a low-security prison in the federal correctional complex, according to an email obtained by The News & Observer.

Butner Warden Thomas Scarantino said in the email that the testing would take place Tuesday and Wednesday at the prison, one of three at the complex, which also includes a medical center. The prison complex roughly 30 miles north of Raleigh has had 15 inmates with the virus die since March, more than any other federal prison site.

The most recent death, on Monday, was Juan Ledoux-Moreno, 74, who was serving a one-year sentence for firearms and drug charges. He had been at Butner since Aug. 20. The Bureau of Prisons said in a news release Tuesday that Ledoux-Moreno tested positive on May 19, after being evaluated for other medical issues, and had other pre-existing conditions that contributed to his death.

The low-security prison is housing 1,170 male inmates, or roughly a quarter of the complex's total population of 4,386 inmates.

The complex's first major outbreak happened at one of its two medium-security prisons, then spread to an adjacent minimum-security camp. The other nine deaths happened at those facilities, including one last week. Fifteen cases have also been reported at the medical center, and two inmate cases have turned up at the other medium-security prison.

While the complex dealt with outbreaks at the medium-security prison and camp, it began moving inmates who had the virus into what had been a closed special housing unit within the low-security prison. That alarmed staff and inmates who saw it as an exposure risk.


Those fears now appear to have come true. The low-security prison now has the most active cases with 270 inmates and seven staff. The bureau said 43 inmates and six staff there have recovered from the virus.

"Now, as you can see, the LSCI (low-security prison) is experiencing an increase in positive inmate cases," Scarantino wrote Monday in his email to staff. "At this time, and due to the number of positive tests so far, we are going to be testing ALL LSCI inmates over the next 2 days."

The email was shared with The News & Observer by an employee who wished not to be identified.

Bureau officials declined comment on the testing and said Butner officials also would not be available for comment.


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