136 active COVID cases among staff and inmates at Regina Correctional Centre

COVID-19 cases among Regina Correctional Centre staff doubled over last week.

Government says all inmates over 55 who wanted a vaccine got one

The Regina Correctional Centre is trying to contain an outbreak of COVID-19. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

COVID-19 cases continue to rise among staff at the Regina Correctional Centre, but inmates have seen their active case numbers drop, according to the latest numbers provided by the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.

As of Wednesday, 27 staff and 109 inmates at the Regina jail were listed as having active cases of COVID-19.

For inmates, that's down substantially from the previous day when 149, or roughly one in four, inmates had a known active case of COVID-19, according to the numbers. For staff, it was one more than Tuesday's count of 26.

One week prior, there were 71 inmates and 13 staff listed as having active COVID-19.

April 21 active COVID-19 cases at provincial correctional centres. (Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety)

The Regina Correctional Centre has been grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak since last December, something Kim Beaudin, National Vice-Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), said could have been prevented.

Beaudin said the provincial government should have vaccinated all inmates and staff at correctional centres weeks ago, but chose not to. 

"They're looking at it from a political lens," he said.

According to CAP, more than 80 per cent of inmates in Saskatchewan jails are Indigenous.

"They're tough on crime … tough on Indigenous people's agenda when it comes to justice," Beaudin said, referring to the governing Saskatchewan Party.

Members of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples demonstrate at the legislature. They say the government is discriminating against Indigenous people by not prioritizing vaccinations for inmates and correctional workers. (Kirk Fraser)

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said inmates are currently being vaccinated by age.

"From what I've been told most of the offenders inside the prison are a younger demographic, so we will get to them as soon as we get to the younger people in the general public,"  Merriman said. 

All inmates over the age of 55 who want a vaccine have received one, according to an emailed statement from the Ministry of Health.

Barry Nowoselsky, chair with the Saskatchewan Government Employees' Union (SGEU), said giving vaccines to some people at the jail and not to others leaves everyone at risk.

"You can't piecemeal vaccinations in an institution, any kind of institution. You have to vaccinate everybody for it to work properly," Nowoselsky said.

He said the Saskatchewan Health Authority originally prioritized vaccines for staff and inmates in correctional centres in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout, but the government didn't follow through on its own recommendations.

By not adhering to an institution-wide mass vaccination of all staff and inmates at the start of Phase 2, Nowoselsky said the government opened the door for the current COVID outbreak in the jail.

"Government dropped the ball on this. They dropped the ball and they're putting people's lives in jeopardy and somebody should not have to die before they take it upon themselves to do the right thing and have these people vaccinated."

Nowoselsky said four inmates are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, a number the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety refused to confirm, citing privacy concerns.

Nowoselsky said the large number of cases at the Regina jail will ultimately mean more COVID cases in the general public. 

"It's a clear pathway back into the community when the staff leave that institution or inmates are released. So it just makes good sense in curbing the virus, bringing it to a standstill by vaccinating everybody. This is about protecting the staff and the inmates, but protecting the general public."

Currently, 670 inmates live at the Regina Correctional Centre and more than 400 people work there.

Regina had 876 known active COVID-19 cases in the city Wednesday, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority's latest numbers.