Known active COVID-19 cases at Prince Albert jail jump over 3-day span

The number of known active COVID-19 cases at the Prince Albert Correctional Centre jumped from Dec. 18 to Dec. 21.

Union calls for rapid testing similar to what was used at Saskatchewan Penitentiary

Rapid COVID-19 testing has been used at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert (pictured). The union representing staff at the nearby Prince Albert Correctional Centre wants the same testing done there. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The number of known active COVID-19 cases at the Prince Albert Correctional Centre jumped from Dec. 18 to Dec. 21.

The total went from 14 offenders and three staff to 20 inmates and four staff. The increase has the union that speaks for staff calling on the government to bring rapid testing kits into the jail, similar to the testing done at the nearby Saskatchewan Penitentiary in the same city.

"We are sending a formal letter asking the minister to implement rapid testing tomorrow morning [Tuesday]," said Glenn Billingsley with Saskatchewan Government Employees Union on Monday.

The province said in an email to CBC that it's considering the rapid test kits but has not yet made up its mind.

Both the Prince Albert provincial jail and the local federal prison are struggling to contain COVID-19 outbreaks behind their walls.

James Bloomfield, the prairie region president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said there are upwards of 70 staff and inmates who have tested positive.

He said that one of the main reasons case numbers have climbed so quickly is that staff are now doing rapid, asymptomatic testing within the prison population. Test results coming back within 30 minutes has been a big help, he said.

"Instead of waiting three or four days, and not knowing who is or who isn't positive, we end up being able to pick out all of the asymptomatic out of an entire population fairly quickly — within a couple of days — depending on how fast we test both populations," he said.

"It allows us to really bring these groups together, isolate things as much as possible and then start using the appropriate protective equipment to ensure that the spread is as minimal as possible."

Bloomfield confirmed there are situations where CSC is housing COVID-19 positive inmates with healthy inmates on the same units, but said the dynamics of the facility sometimes make it impossible to keep positive cases separate.

"There are some scenarios where we don't have a choice in that," he said. 

Prisoner advocate Sherri Maier is in contact with inmates at the penitentiary. She said the situation is worsening.

"Their washrooms have no hand soap and there is hardly any hot water," she wrote in a letter Dec. 20 to the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

"This is unacceptable and hard to fight this virus with no cleaning products and soap to wash their hands."

She said that healthy and sick inmates are sharing the same space.

"There are guys on the unit who are positive with COVID-19, but they are not being taken off the unit, rather the guards are taping off their cells," she said.

"Guys who have COVID-19 are not being told they even have COVID right away."


Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.