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COVID-19 outbreak total jumps to 22 at Penetanguishene superjail

'My membership is concerned,' union president says. 'It has added significant stress to all staff, and certainly to those staff who work the outbreak unit'
The Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene. Mehreen Shahid/MidlandToday file photo

The COVID-19 outbreak at the Central North Correctional Centre continues to escalate.

There are now 19 inmates and three staff members who have tested positive for the virus at the Penetanguishene institution.

“My membership is concerned,” said Richard Dionne, president of OPSEU local CNCC-369. “It has added significant stress to all staff, and certainly to those staff who work the outbreak unit.”

Dionne said the increased workload dealing with the outbreak has been exhausting and extremely taxing on staff.

“As with all close contact, the reduction in staffing due to the requirements for some to self-isolate has made it that much more difficult.”

And on top of that, the Christmas season can create an added level of anxiety at the jail that normally houses about 900 inmates.

“Any holiday is difficult for the inmates,” he said. “The pandemic and the current situation within our institution will surely make this holiday season more difficult and stressful, as normal operations are more difficult to maintain, while keeping a lid on the outbreak.”

In declaring the outbreak last week, Dr. Charles Gardner from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said one staff member had initially tested positive along with two inmates, all from the same unit.

"I believe when the situation broke, the employer was swift in their reaction to try to contain the spread, and, ultimately I believe it was effective to not have it spread any further throughout the institution,” Dionne said.

"That being said, it is still unclear where the first case may have stemmed from.”

Dionne said the union has been attempting to eliminate all inter-institutional transfers from the outset of the pandemic, to no avail.

“This may have caused the spread, from the Toronto South Detention Centre, where they had a declared outbreak shortly after transfers were brought here. All that being said, it is speculative at this time, and I don't believe we will be able to determine where the first case may have contracted it.”

Andrew Morrison, a spokesperson with the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said affected inmates in Penetanguishene "are under droplet precautions" and isolated from the rest of the inmate population while they receive appropriate medical care.

“The ministry is working with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to support contact tracing," he said earlier this week. "Protecting the health and safety of correctional services staff and those in provincial custody is the ministry’s top priority."

Morrison outlined some of the operational changes the ministry has made over the last number of months at all provincial correctional facilities.

They include: Testing all newly admitted inmates, with their consent, housing all newly admitted inmates in a separate area from the general population for 14 days, providing masks to inmates (if required), providing personal protective equipment for all staff, increased cleaning measures as well as requiring all staff and visitors to always wear masks and submit to temperature checks.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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