More than 150 COVID-19 cases at Regina jail, 5 inmates in hospital: SGEU
REGINA -- A COVID-19 outbreak at the Regina Correctional Centre (RCC) continues to escalate; 131 inmates and 20 staff have tested positive as of Thursday afternoon and five inmates have been hospitalized, according to the union representing corrections workers.
An outbreak was first declared in the facility’s isolation unit on Nov. 25, 2020, then at RCC on Dec. 9. The facility has been on the province’s active outbreak list ever since.
A second wave of spread began the first week of April in the facility, when the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) told CTV News on April 8 that 18 inmates and five staff had contracted the virus. One week later, the outbreak has grown to impact more than 150 people.
Shawn Fraser, the CEO of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan (JHSS), said there are more people in RCC with COVID than in Regina’s two hospitals combined, calling the jail a “hotbed for COVID.”
“This is a worst case scenario for people in the correctional [facility] and guards working there, too,” said Fraser.
“You lose a lot of things when you go to jail, but you don’t lose your right to healthcare.”
VACCINATING INMATES IN CORRECTIONS FACILITIES
Health Minister Paul Merriman said Thursday the province is continuing to monitor the situation and that healthcare workers go into the facility “once or twice a week” to give COVID-19 shots.
“We go in there often to vaccinate any staff or the offenders that are in there when their age category comes up,” said Merriman.
“We are vaccinating people in the corrections facilities, we just want to make sure we’re guarding our total vaccine supply and making sure that everybody has an opportunity to get a vaccine.”
However, according to the Ministry of Justice the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) started vaccinating inmates onsite at RCC Thursday; seven individuals received the shot.
The Ministry of Justice said 10 people total have been vaccinated at RCC and “corrections is working with the Ministry of Health and the [SHA] to facilitate vaccinations at other provincial correctional facilities as soon as possible.”
Before today, the Ministry of Justice said inmates at provincial corrections facilities were mainly vaccinated at community vaccination sites.
As of Wednesday evening, a total of 15 inmates from Besnard Lake, Pine Grove Correctional Centre, Prince Albert Correctional Centre, Regina Correctional Centre and Saskatoon Correctional Centre had received shots at community clinics.
Across Saskatchewan, 104 inmates in provincial correctional facilities meet the vaccine eligibility criteria as of Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Justice.
SGEU URGES GOVERNMENT TO VACCINATE ALL INMATES AND GUARDS
SGEU has continuously called for the vaccination of corrections workers and inmates, but the provincial government has refused to veer from its age-based strategy.
JHSS has joined SGEU in calling for the vaccination of correctional staff and has urged the government to vaccinate inmates when they become eligible.
“It’s a serious matter and it’s mind boggling that we don’t see guards as a priority for vaccination, obviously they’re the ones coming and going from the prison,” said Fraser.
Barry Nowoselsky, a spokesperson for SGEU, said he doesn’t agree with the province’s age-based plan for inmates. He said offenders aren’t housed by age and guards aren’t working with inmates who are their age.
“You can't deal with the vaccinations in a correctional center through age. That is quite frankly just borderline stupidity,” said Nowoselsky. “The only way to curb the virus and to shut things down is to have vaccination available to all staff and all inmates. That's the only way. And it's irresponsible for the government to do it any other way.”
During the province’s COVID-19 update on Tuesday, Merriman said jails are a “very contained environment” where staff can move inmates into different areas to “make sure that they’re kept safe.”
Nowoselsky disagrees. He said COVID-positive inmates are moved, but they have often already transmitted the virus to others.
“It’s over 150 people that are COVID-positive, and the minister is still going to stand by his words that it's a safe place to be? He's dropped the ball, he's dropped the ball on this whole situation,” said Nowoselsky.
SGEU said the government is putting lives in jeopardy. According to Nowoselsky, some guards are scared to go to work.
“They're concerned for themselves, they're concerned for the inmates that they're in charge of and they're also concerned that they're going to take that virus home to their families,” said Nowoselsky.
“These men and women go to work every day on our behalf. To protect us. To do the job on behalf of the citizens of the province and they're treated by the government with total disregard. It should be unacceptable to all of us.”