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Staff shortages prompt inmate transfer as COVID-19 outbreak at North Bay Jail worsens


The Ministry of The Solicitor General issued a media release Saturday afternoon confirming that approx. 30 per cent of staff at the North Bay Jail are currently self-isolating due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

In the release, a media relations official said the ministry has taken the unusual step of disclosing information about staff absences in this instance due to what it called "erroneous local media reports."

"The ministry is cautious about providing details on staff absences at provincial correctional facilities for security reasons," wrote a ministry media official in the release.

"However, because of erroneous local media reports, the ministry feels compelled to confirm that approximately 30 per cent of North Bay Jail (NBJ) staff are currently self-isolating at home related to the current outbreak at the facility."

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit declared an outbreak at the jail on Dec.29 but on Tues, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union confirmed there were 40 active cases among inmates and staff.

According to the Health Unit website, that number had increased to 106 as of Friday afternoon.  The jail has now taken steps to have the inmates transferred in order to maintian safety standards amidst the staff shortages.

"The ministry is coordinating the transfer of a portion of the current North Bay Jail inmate population to help mitigate the current staff absences and maintain the safety and security of those inmates that will remain at the facility," the release continued.

"Transferring NBJ inmates will also help prevent the risk of infection of COVID-19 at the facility and create additional capacity to manage close contact isolation requirements."

Original Published: Jan.12 - 7:14 p.m. EST

A COVID-19 outbreak at the North Bay Jail could have been avoided, according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

OPSEU said Wednesday an inmate transfer to the North Bay Jail was a miscommunication and that the inmate could have made his court appearance over video call instead.

The inmate tested positive for COVID-19 less than 12 hours after arriving at the jail

“I’m going to assume that the ministry didn’t follow the policies they … themselves had made,” said OPSEU Local 616 president Roselle Greuter. “He shouldn’t have come to our place.”

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit declared an outbreak on Dec. 29 and there are currently 66 active cases. The jail, however, is still open.

“Nobody is hearing what we’re saying and that’s why it’s so frustrating,” said Greuter. “We have asked for a plan and we don’t get one.”

Greuter said many staff members are off sick with COVID-19 and therefore can't work, leaving a staffing shortage. OPSEU is calling on the province for help, including for N95 masks.

“This is a critical situation," she said. "We can’t run the jail. We don’t have the staff and this is just the beginning of it … Inmates are annoyed and we’re annoyed, but how do you sustain this?”

In a statement, the Ministry of the Solicitor General said it's not appropriate to address an individual case or address details of inmate transfers for security reasons.

“Each facility has its own pandemic plan in place, prepared in consultation with local public health partners,” said spokesperson Andrew Morrison.

“Any inmate that tests positive for COVID-19 is placed on droplet and contact precautions and isolated from the rest of the inmate population while they receive appropriate medical care.”

The ministry said since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been operational changes across all provincial correctional facilities.

Those changes include screening and testing all newly admitted inmates, with their consent, housing all newly admitted inmates in a separate area from the general population for 14 days and requiring temperature checks for staff and visitors.

The jail also experienced an outbreak last June when more than 40 inmates, staff and others tested positive for the virus. That outbreak ended in July. Top Stories

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