DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard
KAWARTHA LAKES: The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) recently declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Lindsay’s Central East Correctional Centre.
As of press time, a provincial case dashboard states there are 146 active inmate cases at the facility. As well, the Ministry of the Solicitor General states they are “aware of 20 COVID-positive cases among staff at the facility.”
On Tuesday, May 25th, the health unit reported 122 inmates and nine staff members at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19.
“It started within one unit. But as the number of cases increased in that one unit, testing also expanded to other units as well, because it was recognized, there had been some overlap despite the best efforts of all of the facility staff to keep units separate. Sometimes there are things that result in some overlap,” HKPR Medical Officer of Health Dr. Natalie Bocking explained during a virtual press conference on Wednesday, May 26th.
The Provincial Ministry of the Solicitor General has procedures in place to deal with outbreaks at correctional facilities. “Any inmate [who] tests positive for COVID-19 is placed under droplet precautions and isolated from the rest of the inmate population while they receive appropriate medical care. The ministry continues to work with local public health authorities to complete contact tracing, and voluntary testing of inmates is ongoing,” read a statement from Solicitor General Ministry spokesperson Andrew Morrison. “Protecting the health and safety of correctional services staff and those in provincial custody is the ministry’s top priority. Over the past year, the ministry has made important operational changes across all provincial correctional facilities.”
However, Dr. Bocking explained it might take some time for those measures to impact case numbers in this type of outbreak. “There is certainly an element of this needing to run its course. Because [of] the incubation period, or the amount of time the virus can sit within somebody, [while] they’re not feeling sick, they could be passing it on. Often we’re still identifying new cases ten days into the outbreak because it has taken them some time to test positive. I think the measures that have been put in place will be effective. But it will take a bit of time for us to see that.”
Dr. Bocking noted facilities like these are “challenged with spacing,” and in these situations, “cohorting and keeping people separate is challenging.”
Health unit officials say COVID-19 vaccines have been made available to inmates and correctional staff members.
“They were just about to start rolling out vaccinations when the outbreak started to hit,” Dr. Bocking explained. “They are continuing to roll out vaccinations now among the inmate population.”
The health unit is unsure how this virus was introduced into the facility but is focusing on responding to the outbreak.
“I think the most likely scenario is there could have been a staff [member who] might have been exposed to COVID-19 in the community, [who] might not have had any symptoms, [and had] been carrying [COVID-19 and] introduced it. I think right now our focus is on responding, as opposed to going back and tracking [the source of the outbreak].”