More federal prisons are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, with the surge in new infections affecting not only inmates but also a large number of correctional officers and staff.
New outbreaks were reported Friday at four Correctional Service Canada facilities: the Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick; Drumheller in Alberta; Stony Mountain in Manitoba; and the Kent Institution in B.C. Those follow outbreaks earlier this week at three other federal institutions.
While the new outbreaks have led to dozens of inmates having become infected with COVID-19, the number of cases among prison staff has been much higher.
Correctional Services spokeswoman Marie Pier Lecuyer said Friday a total of 248 staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, compared with 107 inmates. The previous day, the agency had reported infections in 160 staff members and 88 inmates.
Drumheller alone accounted for 41 of the new staff infections reported Friday, along with 13 inmates.
At the Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C., 18 staff had tested positive for the virus.
The latest outbreaks, which have also affected the Nova Scotia Institution for Women, the Warkworth Institution in Ontario, and La Mazaca Institution in Quebec, come as Canada faces a surge in new COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
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As the number of cases among inmates and staff continues to grow, Lecuyer said Correctional Services is reviewing staff levels at its institutions to make sure there are enough officers to continue operating in a safe manner.
“In addition, we have contingency plans, which indicate additional measures that can be taken to address staffing levels issue, such as approving staff overtime and having managers replace correctional officers, as needed,” she said.
Some provinces have made the difficult decision in recent days to keep essential workers such as police officers, paramedics and hospital workers on the job even after they have tested positive for COVID-19, amid a nationwide explosion in new cases.
Lecuyer said while correctional officers are not returning to work until they are fully recovered, the agency does have a protocol in place allowing the return of asymptomatic staff who have completed “the majority” of their 10-day isolation period.
Such staff members will be subject to ongoing rapid testing and other “work-isolation measures,” she added.
Jeff Wilkins, national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said it is concerning that federal prison staff are having to deal with COVID-19.
However, while the union has been pushing the federal government to instigate hazard pay for correctional officers, Wilkins said he was generally satisfied with the measures put in place to protect them.
“Of course, nothing can be perfect, but I do believe that the things that we have put in place have managed to keep the numbers as low as they are,” he said.
Wilkins added there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to a staffing shortage, but one solution might be to bring in staff from another institution that is close by and not experiencing an outbreak.
© 2021 The Canadian Press