HMP inmates and staff being tested for COVID-19, number of firefighters in isolation climbs to 51

There are an unknown number of correctional officers in isolation and Eastern Health is on site doing testing.

SJRFD chief says normal staffing levels continue so far

Staffing at HMP is normal, says the Justice Department, but there are more in self-isolation. The department will say only that it's 'less than two dozen.' (CBC)

All inmates and staff at Her Majesty's Penitentiary are being tested for COVID-19 after a close contact of a correctional officer tested positive.

It's unclear when that person tested positive, but the Justice Department says it was made aware of the positive result on Wednesday. 

The staff member was last at HMP on Feb. 7 and was already self-isolating, according to a media release issued by the provincial government at noon on Thursday. 

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any provincial jails. 

However, other staff members are in isolation. 

It's "less than two dozen," according to a spokesperson with the Department of Justice, who refused to say the exact number, saying that doing so could affect the safety and security of the institution.

However, HMP staffing is normal, said the same statement. The unknown number of self-isolating employees are nearing the end of that period and are expected to be back at work "in the coming days," said the government. 

Eastern Health officials are on site at HMP to do testing. 

Program changes and more amid COVID-19

There have been changes behind the walls, too, as COVID-19 rages on. 

All visitation and in-person programming offered by external facilitators was suspended Feb. 8. 

Since the province moved to Alert Level 5 last week, inmates have not been allowed to move around as much as before. There is also a quarantine area set up. 

All new inmates are screened via a questionnaire. 

Firefighters isolating hits 51

Unlike the justice department, other agencies have provided totals of staff self-isolating, including Eastern Health and the St. John's Regional Fire Department. 

The total number of firefighters in isolation jumped to 51, up from 36 on Wednesday. 

Of those 51 firefighters, 27 are in isolation because of a possible exposure from a firefighter who tested positive for COVID-19. That incident prompted two fire stations to close for several hours and crews to be sent home immediately. 

Another 24 firefighters are already in isolation for other possible exposure unrelated to the workplace. 

St. John's Regional Fire Department Chief Sherry Colford says staffing levels at fire houses remain normal so far. (CBC)

In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, fire Chief Sherry Colford was pressed repeatedly on whether the person showed up to work while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, but she wouldn't comment.

"There was no protocol broken," she said, but didn't say what the existing protocol is. 

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