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Mother of inmate fears for son’s safety after COVID-19 confirmed at Okanagan jail

Okanagan Correctional Centre inmate tests positive for COVID-19

Francis Amendt was shocked to receive an early morning call from her son, an inmate at the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC), with news of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the jail population.

The Enderby woman said her 40-year-old son, Dean Amendt, has been behind bars at the facility near Oliver, B.C., since January for petty theft fuelled by his struggle with addiction.

Amendt said her son has had ongoing fears about how the jail would be able to contain the virus if an outbreak occurred, and now his fears have materialized.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: B.C. reports 6 new deaths, case confirmed at Okanagan jail

“If the virus takes a number of days before it becomes known, how many people did this guy infect before he knew he had it?” she said on Thursday.

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“All they were told is to stay-isolated, nobody has been quarantined to their cells, just to stay away from other people.”

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Amendt points out that there are at least two people residing in one cell on bunk beds, in many cases.

“Nobody is in a cell by themselves, everybody has at least one more person in a cell with them, so you can’t even be quarantined,” she said.

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Amendt said her son is scheduled to be released from the jail in 18 days and it was planned he would stay with them until he can get back on his feet.

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She said she and her husband are elderly and they now are worried for their safety if their son were to live with them in the weeks following his release from the correctional facility.

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“What is going to happen at the end of the 18 days? If he’s got the virus, do they keep them in there? Where are they going to go?” she said.

“My husband and I are senior citizens, he was planning to be here, but is that a good idea? I don’t know.”

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At a daily news briefing in Victoria on Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed one of the new cases reported in the province is at the Okanagan correctional facility.

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Henry said health officials had been preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of the virus at correctional facilities, and was conducting surveillance testing of inmate populations.

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The Provincial Health Services Authority has taken over management of the outbreak at OCC.

“There were measures that were put in place some weeks ago, restricting visitors and doing health checks and making sure that there was rapid access to testing, should people become ill, because of the communal setting,” Henry said.

Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons
Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons

Henry added that new inmates coming into correctional facilities are also directed to self-isolate for 14 days.

“The person who became ill was isolated and the people in the pod that he was in are all being monitored now, so far there are no other cases but it takes time, as we know, after an exposure.”

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The OCC is approximately 29,000 square meters in total area, including 11 living units and 378 cells.

In an email to Global News, B.C. Corrections said that late on April 1, it was advised that an individual in custody had tested positive for COVID-19.

“As part of our pandemic planning, we have prepared for a confirmed case and are actively working with our PHSA Correctional Health team,” said the email.

“At the onset of symptoms, this individual was isolated under medical observation and tested. This person’s symptoms were mild. No one else on this individual’s unit is symptomatic at this time.”

It also said “following provincial health guidelines, an investigation into direct contacts is now underway to identify anyone who may have had exposure to this individual, and appropriate measures will be taken as directed by public health officials.”

B.C. now has 1121 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 31 deaths.

On Thursday, Canada reached 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

–With files from Simon Little