The number of active cases of inmates and staff with COVID-19 at three Lower Mainland jails has dropped significantly since outbreaks were declared last month, according to data from the Fraser Health Authority.
The Surrey Pretrial Services Centre saw the biggest drop in active cases, with one inmate testing positive for the virus as of Tuesday. A total of 38 inmates and one staff member at the facility contracted COVID-19 since an outbreak was declared Jan. 20, 2021.
North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam is also down to one active case of an inmate infected with the virus. An outbreak was declared Jan. 22 at the jail, with 22 inmates and four staff having contracted the virus.
In Maple Ridge at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, seven inmates were still considered active cases as of Tuesday. A total of 18 inmates and two staff had tested positive at Fraser Regional since an outbreak was declared Jan. 26.
“Fraser Health is working with BC Corrections and Provincial Health Services Authority infection control to support these sites and manage the outbreaks,” said an emailed statement provided to Glacier Media from Fraser Health. “In addition, we are actively following up with any individuals who had contact with the individuals in custody at these locations who have tested positive for COVID-19.”
As of Monday, none of B.C.’s eight federal prisons such as Mission Institution, which saw 120 cases and one death last year, had reported any active cases for COVID-19, according to data posted on the Correctional Service of Canada website.
When to vaccinate inmates against the virus sparked a public debate last month after federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole used his Twitter account to tweet that “not one criminal should be vaccinated ahead of any vulnerable Canadian or front-line health worker.”
B.C.’s Ministry of Health said in a statement that the province’s vaccination strategy was developed based on recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The strategy is focused on “protecting those most vulnerable to severe illness and death, as well as reducing the likelihood of transmission in high-risk scenarios” and to make sure B.C.’s health care system is protected and able to operate efficiently.
“People in provincial corrections have not yet received immunization, however some high-risk federal inmates have been immunized by federal Correctional Services Canada [with allotted doses from the federal government],” the ministry said. “Healthcare workers in both federal and provincial corrections are included in phase two [of B.C.’s vaccination plan], along with high-risk people in provincial corrections.”
People who work in health care in B.C.’s 10 provincially run prisons, as well as elderly and at-risk inmates, fall under the “vulnerable populations in select congregated settings” category in phase two of the plan.
“Other correctional services staff, both federal and provincial, are scheduled to receive vaccine in phase three and four [of the plan] with other essential workers,” the ministry said.
Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, said more consideration should be given to vaccinating corrections officers sooner than later, noting the concern of transmission of COVID-19 in the jails and community.
“Corrections officers and other staff in the jails go home and into the community, and they come back [to the jails],” said Smith, whose union represents almost 2,000 corrections officers in the province. “So to protect inmates, to protect our BCGEU members and to protect families and communities, we think everybody should be a priority for vaccination.”
Smith said she does not have easy access to data that tracks the number of officers infected by the virus. Employees, she added, are not required to notify the union of a positive test.
“We are not an authority for data on our members who have either contracted or been exposed to COVID,” Smith said. “We do get anecdotal numbers and we do track those, of course, but they’re not official in any way.”