Coronavirus: Outbreak of COVID-19 cases at Stony Mountain Institution growing

An outbreak of COVID-19 cases at Manitoba’s only federal prison has grown to include dozens of cases in the span of a week.

Correctional Service Canada says eight staff and 28 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, up from just one case reported last week.

Read more: Advocate says second COVID-19 wave has inmates locked down in ‘atrocious’ conditions as 5 test positive

“We are monitoring this situation closely and diligently, and we continue to apply our infection prevention and control measures,” a CSC spokesperson said in an email to Global News this week.

“The health and safety of our employees, offenders and the public remains our top priority throughout this public health pandemic.”

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Last Wednesday, CSC data showed the one case at Stony Mountain was among five cases identified at three federal prisons in Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta.

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At the time, all three federal facilities said they were no longer allowing visitors.

The CSC says mass testing of both staff and inmates at Stony Mountain has since taken place and officials are working with public health “to ensure appropriate follow-up measures are in place.”

Read more: Staff at three Manitoba jails test positive for COVID-19

Employees entering federal institutions are being screened and all employees and inmates have been equipped with medical masks and face shields, while cleaning and disinfecting at prisons has also been enhanced, the CSC said.

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“We have dedicated health services on site with the equipment needed to monitor and treat inmates,” the spokesperson said.

“When an employee becomes symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19, they are required to self-isolate at home until cleared to return to work.”

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Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to spread  at provincial institutions in Manitoba as well.

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At the province’s worst-hit facility, Headingley Correctional Centre, provincial data shows 41 staff members and 179 inmates had tested positive as of Wednesday. The numbers show 136 of those cases have recovered.

Read more: Manitoba’s correctional centres making adjustments to prevent spread of COVID-19

There were also 17 cases reported at Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie, three cases at Brandon Correctional Centre, two at the Manitoba Youth Centre, three at Milner Ridge, 27 at the Women’s Correctional Centre and five at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

Last week, the head of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies called on the federal government to release some offenders, as well as accused awaiting trial, so as to allow easier physical distancing behind bars, a step she says provinces have taken more readily than Ottawa.

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The federal prison population fell by only two per cent to about 13,700 between March and April, while the number of Canadians incarcerated at provincial and territorial institutions dropped by 25 per cent to roughly 18,200 between February and April, according to Statistics Canada.

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The changes came after Public Safety Minister Bill Blair asked the federal prison service and the parole board in March to consider releasing some inmates early to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Other steps included extended parole and alternatives for those awaiting trial or sentencing.

Read more: Hundreds of accused Manitobans held in isolation at Winnipeg Remand Centre

About a third of inmates in Canada are housed in federal institutions with the remainder in provincial jails, where those on sentences of two years less a day mix with those awaiting trial.

Since April, all individuals entering custody in Manitoba have been required to isolate for 14 days at the Winnipeg Remand Centre before being transferred to other provincial correctional institutions.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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