Union official concerned about potential for another COVID-19 outbreak at Thunder Bay jail
A union official representing staff at the Thunder Bay District Jail is worried the facility could soon find itself in another COVID-19 outbreak.
Outbreaks at the jail and Thunder Bay Correctional Centre were initially declared in early January and over a two-month period directly resulted in about 200 positive cases.
The outbreak declaration at the jail was lifted on March 11.
Bill Hayes, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 737, said the inmate count has started rising after the outbreak was officially over, with around 110 late last week after dropping below 80.
"There's not as much attention on us and keeping the count low that we're out of outbreak," he said.
"With our count pressures this high again we had people living in our admitting and discharge areas again. If we don't address these count pressures we're not going to be able to get out of intake."
In an interview on CBC's Superior Morning last week, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the province had put procedures and protocols in place at correctional facilities to try to prevent spread.
"Right from last March, we were putting in place with corrections staff some robust screening and testing, housing newly admitted inmates in a separate area from the general population for 14 days to monitor if they have any symptoms," Jones said.
"The reality is, what we have in the community, you're going to see in congregate care settings like a jail."
Hayes said the jail has been receiving new inmates who are either positive cases, or have been exposed to recent positive cases.
"We're dealing with these positive inmates now and just trying to keep them away from the population that's in there," he said.
"All it takes is a matter of that inmate spreading it to another inmate that's in our population and we'll be in outbreak again."
Hayes said the process to vaccinate correctional officers has started, but it comes with mixed emotions.
"A lot of my membership got sick these past two months. It's too little, too late for them and some of their family members," he said, adding about 45 correctional officers ended up testing positive.
"In the long term, they understand the importance of getting it and eventually getting the second one. They're very open to it and I think most of them have gone and received the vaccine."