Five inmates from Mission Institution have been hospitalized as that federal penitentiary deals with a COVID-19 outbreak which has infected 26 inmates and four corrections officers.
“Fraser Health is working in supporting our corrections partners in managing the challenging outbreak in that facility,” B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a Saturday (April 11) news conference.
Correctional Service Canada data has shown a steady increase in positive cases at the jail since the initial confirmation one week ago. There have been a total of 46 tests on inmates at the prison with six tests coming back negative. Fifteen results are still pending.
|Source: Corrections Canada|
A positive case at Pacific Regional Treatment Centre was an inmate from the Mission prison who was moved for medical assistance and received a positive test result at the Abbotsford facility, according to an email from Correctional Service Canada.
A corrections officer working at the prison, who spoke with Black Press Media on April 4 before the outbreak’s confirmation, said that a total of 15 officers had to self-isolate due the outbreak, and that much of prison-life was carrying on as normal.
Across Canada, 61 inmates within federal prisons have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Corrections Canada. Mission Institution currently has the highest number of cases across all facilities.
Quebec’s Joliette Institution has 16 positive tests and Port-Cartier Institution, also in Quebec, has 10. Ontario’s Grand Valley Institution for Women has eight.
According to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, who confirmed the four corrections officers cases, a total of 56 corrections officers at federal prisons have tested positive. The only positive cases in B.C. have come from Mission Institution.
The Mission facility has now been locked down as a precautionary measure. Staff are now “closely and carefully following direction from public health officials, while following strict protocols to avoid further spread in the institution,” Corrections Canada said in a news release this week.
These directions include enhanced cleaning, two daily checks on symptomatic inmates and one daily check on asymptomatic inmates by nursing staff, a hygiene routine and meals now being served in cells.
Mission’s Mayor released statement on the outbreak.
“The news of cases of COVID-19 at Mission Medium Institution is deeply concerning,” Pam Alexis said. “This is not only a serious public health issue for the inmates on lockdown and the staff working there, but is a great concern for the staff who are residents of Mission and have families at home and go about their lives within the community.”
The union has said that surgical masks will now be available for all correctional officers at 49 federal sites, and will soon be available for inmates as well. Only corrections officers who had no contact with those who tested positive are now being allow into federal facilities, and medical staff are taking the temperature of all employees upon entry, the union said.
“Mask supplies are still a concern for our 7,400 members and we are working hard to make sure correctional officers have access to all the appropriate PPE to perform their work in these difficult circumstances,” an email from the union said.
The union is asking the federal government to “act now to provide each federal institution with an adequate supply of test kits for the purpose of testing critical staff members who have been determined to be at risk through the contact tracing process.”
Meanwhile, advocates are continuing to pressure the federal government to release non-violent offenders to curb the spread. In B.C., provincial officials have granted the early release of nearly 100 inmates, after two inmates contracted the virus at the Okanagan Correctional Centre.
– with files from Kevin Mills and Ashley Wadhwani