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Ontario correctional worker raises concerns about COVID-19 spreading in province’s jails

WATCH ABOVE: Canada became the first nation to pull out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; Nearly 1 out of 3 Americans have been told to stay at home amid the outbreak; and Turkey's coronavirus death toll is up to 30, and the country now has more than 1,200 confirmed cases. We unpack today's headlines. – Mar 23, 2020

After a guard tested positive for COVID-19 and new procedures were implemented at correctional facilities earlier this month, there are still mounting concerns from those that work inside Ontario’s jails.

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“There is supposed to be active screening of people in place when they enter institutions, but it’s nothing more than a sign at the door, but that is not active screening,” one correctional worker told Global News.

The man works at a correctional facility in the Greater Toronto Area and is in direct contact with inmates. Global News has chosen not to identify him to protect his job.

READ MORE: Ontario government suspends personal visits at adult jails, intermittent inmate stays

“There are a whole lot of things that seem to be falling through the cracks,” the worker said.

On Saturday, OPSEU president Warren Thomas said “correctional institutions can be a petri dish in terms of spreading infection and I’m worried the reaction to this threat has been too sluggish.

“We need to get ahead of the danger.”

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The worker shares that concern, saying, “When they finally decide they are going to take action, it will be too late.” He says he’s trying to protect his own health by cleaning all surfaces and washing his hands regularly, but adds social distancing isn’t really possible.

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“I’m doing what I can … but there needs to be something in line with what the government is telling everyone else to do.”

An internal union email sent to correctional facility staff also is raising questions about whether or not the province is following recommendations from the World Health organization and federal government.

The e-mail, which outlines communications with Daryl Pitfield, executive director of institutional services with the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, alleges, “Daryl stated that the necessary parts of all the institutions pandemic plans were up and running appropriately and being engaged.

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“Darryl also stated that pandemic plans will not be implemented until Public Health announces a pandemic inside the institutions.”

Global News reached out to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones office about the concerns. In a statement, spokesperson Brent Ross wrote, “No inmate has tested positive for COVID-19 in any of our correctional institutions.”

“Staff are advised to monitor their own health, and report to management any changes to their health status. There are also processes in place to address environment cleaning. Our correctional facilities are inspected and thoroughly cleaned daily and/or as required. Proper hand washing and cough/sneezing etiquette has also been communicated to staff and inmates.”

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Ross did not address the specific allegation in the email that pandemic implementation plans are on hold right now, saying only in general terms that “if an outbreak of any communicable disease occurs or is suspected, institution officials take immediate precautionary containment measures in accordance with operating procedures, including notifying the local Medical Officer of Health, and provincial health professionals.”

Testing protocols for inmates also remain unclear at this point.


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