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NC prisoner dies from coronavirus; weekend COVID-19 cases reach daily record

In this June 26, 2020, file photo Healthcare professional Kenzie Anderson grabs a test tube for a sample at United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site in Houston.
David J. Phillip
In this June 26, 2020, file photo Healthcare professional Kenzie Anderson grabs a test tube for a sample at United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site in Houston.

A North Carolina prisoner with COVID-19 died over the weekend, the state Department of Public Safety announced on Monday.

The man, who was serving time at the minimum-custody Greene Correctional Institution, died at an unnamed hospital on Saturday.

His name has not been released due to family privacy and prisoner record confidentiality. The man tested positive on Dec. 21 and was hospitalized Dec. 24. He was in his late 70s and wasn’t vaccinated, the release said. Incarcerated individuals are encouraged but not required to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

An initial review shows COVID-19 was likely the cause of death or at least a contributing factor, DPS said. Fifty-six people held in North Carolina prisons have now died from the coronavirus during the pandemic. It was the first such death since May, DPS spokesperson John Bull said.

The death was reported amid a surge in cases in North Carolina and nationwide, much of which is attributed to the highly-contagious omicron variant.

Record NC COVID cases

The state Department of Health and Human Services reported 19,620 positive cases on Saturday — the third record day-over-day increase for the pandemic last week. COVID-19 patient hospitalizations continued an upward trend over the weekend, reaching 2,722 people as of Sunday, according to DHHS data. On Monday, the state reported 12,989 new cases, with a daily positive rate of over 27%.

Despite a record number of North Carolinians testing positive for COVID-19, there is no official way to say if a person has the omicron variant. The state health department says only a small percentage of positive COVID-19 cases are further reviewed to determine the variant.

The most recent report on genomic sequencing of COVID cases in North Carolina shows omicron is represented in 14% of the sequenced viruses. The first case of omicron in the state was reported on December 10 by Mecklenburg County Public Health.

While some research suggests the omicron variant causes less severe disease, DHHS reports, that in the week ending Christmas Day every region of the state saw an increase in emergency department visits due to COVID-like illnesses.

WUNC's Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

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Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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