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Penetanguishene superjail staff, inmates dealing with major COVID-19 outbreak

'Typically (outbreaks) cause lockdowns, increased workload and frustration for staff, increased tension for inmates, which makes for a very difficult work environment,” union head says
The Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene. MidlandToday file photo.

The Central North Correctional Centre is in the midst of another COVID-19 outbreak.

“There are currently eight inmates who have tested positive,” CNCC-369 local president Richard Dionne said, noting the outbreak occurred over the last week or so can’t be attributed to anyone or anything specific.

“In addition to the eight CNCC inmates, the Ministry (of the Solicitor General) moved a number of inmates from North Bay Jail, who are struggling to control their outbreak.

“Of those moved from North Bay, nine have been confirmed positive. These nine will not reflect on SMDHU's (Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit) count for our institution.”

Besides the inmates, 20 CNCC staff have also tested positive.

“With the number of staff who have tested, and how quickly this variant appears to be spreading, there are definitely concerns around staffing,” Dionne said.

“Typically these cause lockdowns, increased workload and frustration for staff, increased tension for inmates which makes for a very difficult work environment for my members.”

Andrew Morrison, a spokesman with the Solicitor General’s office, said that the ministry’s aware the SMDHU has declared an outbreak as local public health authorities determine case thresholds for a declared institutional outbreak.

“Each facility has its own pandemic plan in place prepared in consultation with local public health partners,” Morrison said. “Protecting the health and safety of correctional services staff and those in provincial custody is the ministry’s top priority.”

Morrison went on to say the ministry has developed COVID-19 protocols for provincial correctional facilities, in alignment with the Ministry of Health and public health partners.

“Any inmate that tests positive for COVID-19 is placed on droplet and contact precautions and isolated from the rest of the inmate population while they receive appropriate medical care,” he said.

“Verified inmate COVID-19 cases at all Ontario adult correctional facilities are posted online. The ministry continues to work with the health unit to support testing of inmates and staff to inform contact tracing and help determine any isolation and further testing requirements for high risk close contacts.”

Morrison said the ministry has its own supply of COVID-19 vaccines and makes the vaccine available to all eligible inmates on an ongoing basis.

“Ministry clinical staff have access to inmate vaccination records via the provincial COVAX system,” he said. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry has made important operational changes across all provincial correctional facilities.”

Changes outlined by Morrison include:

  • Screening and testing all newly admitted inmates, with their consent
  • Housing all newly admitted inmates in a separate area from the general population for 14 days
  • Providing masks to inmates, if required
  • Providing personal protective equipment for all staff
  • Requiring all staff to wear a mask at all times while at the facility and eye protection, as necessary.
  • Requiring visitors to wear masks at all times while at the facility
  • Requiring temperature checks for staff and visitors
  • Working with local public health units to test inmates and staff as appropriate.
  • Increased cleaning measures