S.C. prisons face staffing challenges amid lag in COVID-19 test results

S.C. prisons face staffing challenges amid lag in COVID-19 test results
Prisons in South Carolina are continuing to feel the affects to the coronavirus as more than 760 inmates statewide have tested positive and nine have died. (Source: WLTX.CBS News)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Prisons in South Carolina are continuing to feel the affects to the coronavirus as more than 760 inmates statewide have tested positive and nine have died.

The most recent inmate to die, a 55-year-old from the Perry Correctional Institution, died Sunday from COVID-19 complications.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections launched an effort to test all inmates and staff members at the Kirkland, MacDougal and Tyger River facilities, each of which has seen a rise in cases.

SCDOC Director Bryan Stirling says his agency is weeks away from completing the efforts but a lag in test results is presenting a challenge.

"Testing used to be...take a couple days, three days or so, now it's taking seven days," he says. "So the purpose of doing the targeted testing was to separate people and after a couple days you can do that and still have an effective strategy. We feel like here though, after seven days, it's not as effective so we're trying to look at how to speed up that process."

The virus also put a strain on staffing as some who are ill stay home and others are reallocated to help meet the need.

"We are having staffing issues, we've always had staffing issues," Stirling said. "It's very difficult to hire and retain medical staff. The National Guard has come in and helped us take vitals at a lot of institutions and I can't thank them enough for that."

Visitation and intake continue to be put on hold along with many activities, but Stirling says they're finding new ways to keep inmates engage.

"We've done education via video conferencing, so people are still getting their diplomas, they're still getting their education," Stirling said.

Prison officials are also distributing secure tablets to prisons across their system and parole hearings are being held virtually as a precaution.

Recent data shows 209 offenders have recovered from the virus while 557 continue to be affected.

There are more than 16,000 inmates in the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

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