At least 10 workers at two Lower Mainland courthouses have tested positive for COVID-19.
The union representing B.C. sheriffs, the peace officers charged with prisoner transport and courthouse security, says eight members at the Surrey Provincial Court and two at the Abbotsford Provincial Court have contracted the virus.
B.C. Government and Service Employees Union president Stephanie Smith says an additional 23 deputy sheriffs and two courthouse employees at the Surrey courthouse were also self isolating.
“At the Abbotsford courthouse, we’re still trying to determine who is in isolation, what the plans are in terms of testing, cleaning and other sorts of measures are being put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
In a statement, the Ministry of the Attorney General said possible exposures at the Surrey court occurred between Nov. 5 and Nov. 25, but that all close contacts had since been notified.
Fraser Health has since provided “widespread testing,” which included all sheriffs, and had concluded “the situation has been managed appropriately and that al measures have been taken to ensure that transmission is controlled,” the ministry said.
The health authority defined the Surrey incident as a “cluster,” and said it found no evidence of transmission on site or concerns with safety protocols.
In Abbotsford, the ministry said Fraser Health had confirmed “there is no outbreak” at the courthouse, but that “staff are now following the instructions of the local health authority.”
Both courthouses remain open during regular business hours, with enhanced safety protocols including physical distancing, hand hygiene and cleaning, it said.
“We understand that this has been a stressful situation for the staff,” said a spokesperson in an email.
“The safety of our court user and staff is our top priority.”
The union said that the employer is not required to notify it of exposures, and Smith wants to see more information coming from government and health officials.
“That information needs to be shared in a speedy fashion with everybody who could be impacted by this so that they can take the proper steps to mitigate their own personal risk,” she said.
Non-medical masks are currently mandatory in court buildings, but not in all court rooms, something Smith wants to see change.
She also wants to see the province look at a single-site work order for sheriffs, similar to what was implemented for health-care workers in long-term care homes.View link »