Union calls outbreak at Calgary Correctional Centre a ‘horror story’ as COVID-19 infects 65% of inmates

As the Calgary Correctional Centre faces a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected 65 per cent of its inmates and 20 employees, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says it’s being told by workers within the centre that conditions are horrible and many preventative measures are only just being put into place.

“It’s a horror story inside the facility,” Bobby-Joe Borodey, AUPE vice-president, said. “There is no segregation or isolation of infected and uninfected inmates inside the correctional centre now.

“The entire facility is considered to be all COVID. Everybody is mingling.”

Updated numbers released late Friday from the office of the Alberta justice and solicitor general show that a total of 112 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus out of 161 inmates currently at the centre.

Eight of those positive cases were released and instructed to isolate at home after completing their sentences, Alberta Health Services said.

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Excluding the eight cases that are no longer at the centre, that means 64.5 per cent of the 161 inmates still inside the facility have tested positive.

There have also been 20 cases confirmed in staff members.

READ MORE: Calgary lawyer says ‘massive’ correctional centre COVID-19 outbreak stressing province’s inmate population

AUPE said inmates only started wearing masks last week. New restrictions were added on Oct. 23 that require staff to limit themselves to only being either at home or work.

“They’re not able to be in public — can’t get groceries, they can’t take their kids to extracurricular events,” Borodey said. “For the next foreseeable future, they are only able to travel between the two locations, and of course, that’s going to have severe impacts on their quality of life.”

An emailed statement from Alberta’s Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu said the centre is working with AHS to put extra precautions in place.

“To help protect staff and inmates at the facility, the extra measures include centre-wide inmate and staff testing, twice-daily symptom screening of inmates by staff, symptom screening of staff before each shift, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, enhanced PPE protection for staff and inmates and continuous health teaching and mental health supports for both inmates and staff,” the statement read.

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“All non-urgent inmate movement within and in or out of the centre is also temporarily suspended. As a result, there are no new inmate admissions into or inmate transfers in or out of the facility.”

Madu did not provide a date when masks started to be worn.

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Calgary Correctional Centre staff mandated to only go to work, isolate at home' COVID-19: Calgary Correctional Centre staff mandated to only go to work, isolate at home

COVID-19: Calgary Correctional Centre staff mandated to only go to work, isolate at home

Read more: New staff restrictions announced for Calgary Correctional Centre COVID-19 outbreak

AUPE said that employees are “exhausted” as they work to cover for others who are sick. The union added it has heard that workers from other facilities have been asked to be prepared to work at the centre if needed.

The province said Friday that no additional staff members from other centres have been asked to work yet but it may happen in the coming weeks.

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“As part of prudent precautionary planning, staff in other locations may be asked to work at Calgary Correctional Centre,” Madu’s statement read. “If and when this happens, they will be asked to adhere to all health and safety protocols that apply to the centre.”

Read more: Alberta records 622 new COVID-19 cases Friday, 5 additional deaths

AHS said Friday that it believes the increase in cases is due to “re-swabbing of previously negative inmates on Oct. 27 as ordered by the medical officer of health.”

The statement from Madu’s office outlined a series of extra precautions, including inmate screening and testing, as well as isolation and cohorting rules.

Physical distancing, handwashing and “masking when unable to maintain a minimum of two metres” have also been implemented, according to the province.

All visiting has been suspended. When professionals must visit the facility for legal or medical reasons, glass barriers are put into place.

The province said staff has been wearing PPE when dealing with inmates and have been since March.

However, AUPE said Friday that staff said they were only instructed to start wearing PPE on Thursday, and masks have only been used for about a month.

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The Edmonton Remand Centre and the Calgary Remand Centre are both still listed by the province as also having COVID-19 outbreaks.

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