Thunder Bay

'It's incredibly difficult': Staff at Thunder Bay District Jail struggle with COVID-19 outbreak, overcrowding

The Thunder Bay District Jail remains on lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak among inmates there, but the facility is still being required to accept new inmates as it's the only remand centre in the region.

Fourteen inmates confirmed positive with COVID-19 this week

The Thunder Bay District Jail is still accepting new inmates despite a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, as it's the only remand centre in the region, a union representative said. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The Thunder Bay District Jail remains on lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak among inmates there, but the facility is still being required to accept new inmates as it's the only remand centre in the region.

Fourteen new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at the facility by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit on Wednesday.

"It's incredibly difficult," said Bill Hayes, a correctional officer and president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 737, which represents staff at the jail. "It's always been a challenge for all staff working and trying to find appropriate accommodations for inmates when the counts get high like that."

"We're trying to avoid having to house them in interview booths and visiting rooms as best we can and give them their basic human rights."

Hayes said Wednesday the most-recent count put the total number of inmates housed at the jail at 136. The jail has a capacity of about 140, if two inmates are housed per cell.

All inmates are being treated as if they're COVID-positive, and those who have tested positive for the virus are being isolated in two units at the facility. Staff members are using personal protective equipment and abiding by infection-control measures, and the province has sent a corporate health care team to the facility to provide support.

Testing, meanwhile, of all inmates and staff there is ongoing.

And while the jail is being required to let new inmates in, nobody can be transferred out until they receive a negative COVID-19 test.

"I'm hoping the province will work with us to get those inmates that are cleared … out of Thunder Bay," Hayes said. "Maybe to spread them out through other institutions in the province, so we can get some space and be able to deal with the cold cases and suspected cases, as well as the new intake inmates that we are receiving here."

Hayes praised the staff at the jail for their work under stressful conditions.

"Staff have been great throughout this whole process of coming to work and taking extra precautions," he said. "And it hasn't been easy, especially for the newer staff."

"It's a stressful enough job as it is," Hayes said. "Any type of crisis situation just adds that much more stress."

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