Staff at two Brampton correctional facilities, one for youth, test positive for COVID-19
An outbreak of COVID-19 has been declared at the Ontario Correctional Institute (OCI) in Brampton after three corrections officers at the facility tested positive for the virus. Meanwhile, a staff member at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre has also contracted the novel coronavirus.
The circumstances around the outbreak at OCI are unclear at this time. While Peel Public Health confirmed an outbreak at the facility, they declined to provide any details on the matter. It remains unclear how the staff members contracted the virus, or if any inmates have since tested positive. An investigation is currently being conducted. The 228-bed facility in Brampton houses male inmates and specializes in rehabilitating those with substance abuse issues and those who have been charged with sexual crimes.
“The Ministry is working closely with Peel Public Health and continues to take guidance from them on how best to proceed,” Kristy Denette, a spokesperson from the Office of the Solicitor General, told The Pointer.
Inside the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre where one staff member has tested positive for COVID-19.
The main issue with having staff or guards test positive for the virus is them spreading it around the facility and infecting others, something that is easily done in closed environments. This is especially concerning at OCI given there are no traditional cells at the facility. Rather, the building is set up in dormitory style, designed to hold multiple people in the same space.
“It's going to be problematic for sure. We're concerned. We are taking steps, the employer is taking steps to mitigate further risk,” Chris Jackel, chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) corrections division, told The Pointer.
Another major issue faced at such facilities in Ontario surrounds the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) available at each location. The supply is “sporadic at best,” Jackel said.
However, according to Adam Cygler, president of OPSEU Local 229, at OCI, everyone who works in an area that requires PPE will receive it, he told The Pointer.
Cygler, who represents staff at the correctional facility, was not able to provide details on the three confirmed cases, as an investigation on the matter is ongoing.
It’s part of a larger trend seen across the province. Earlier this month, Jackel took part in a panel on The Agenda to discuss the lack of PPE. On the show, he shared some startling examples. At Southwest Detention Center – a maximum security facility in Maidstone, outside of Windsor – staff working in the area where inmates were on presumptive testing were denied access to PPE. “An institution is very, very similar to a cruise ship. Everyone is really in a congregated setting and there is no opportunity to move about or create that distance,” he said on the panel.
This example goes against the measures set by the Ministry of the Solicitor General on COVID-19. The guidelines stated correctional staff must be provided with surgical masks and gloves when they are within two meters of impacted inmates or those who have yet to be screened. The ministry has also introduced guidelines to reduce the inmate population in Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding the use of temporary absences for eligible inmates and allowing early release to qualified inmates near the end of their sentences.
The visiting area of the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton.
Those detained in these facilities are also eligible for prioritized testing for COVID-19. The measure was introduced on April 10 by the provincial government in an effort to increase the number of people tested for the virus. As of Thursday, the list has further been extended to include staff working in these settings.
“These new guidelines will help to ensure that the province takes full advantage of the considerable testing capacity that’s been created over the past few weeks,” the Ministry of Health told The Pointer via email.
Other efforts to stop the spread have also been implemented in correctional facilities, including screening staff upon entering the building and checking their temperature.
“We’re the only corrections jurisdiction across Canada doing that,” Jackel said. Other measures include enhanced cleaning and isolating inmates when appropriate, Denette said.
Confirmed cases in any such facility presents issues to inmates. According to the World Health Organization, the risk of transmission increases in detention centers given individuals are in close proximity to one another. To help jurisdictions dealing with outbreaks, the WHO has published a list of actions that can be taken in detention centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide also states people in this setting may have underlying health conditions or a higher burden of disease compared to the larger population. A lack of space may also make implementing physical distancing measures difficult.
At the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre, a detention center for youth located in Brampton, one staff member has tested positive for COVID-19.
“The ministry has been in constant contact with the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre staff and the local public health unit to ensure the continued health and well-being of our staff and those in our custody. Families of youth at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre have also been notified about the case,” said Geneviève Oger, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
The area the staff member worked received a deep clean, which is now part of regular protocol at the facility, she said. Other measures undertaken at youth facilities include a screening process, the suspension of all personal visits, and cancellation of all non-essential reintegration leaves. These visits prepare youth for reentering the community after their release, Oger explained.
The only federal institution in Ontario that has confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus amongst inmates is Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kingston Ontario, with nine confirmed cases. Across the country, 151 prison inmates have tested positive for the virus as of April 17.
At this point in time, the federal government has not implemented measures to examine if eligible inmates can be released to help ease the spread of COVID-19 amongst prison populations. Correctional Services of Canada (CSC), the organization responsible for such matters at the federal level, has currently suspended visits to offenders, work releases and temporary absences.
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