UPDATE (Nov. 17):
Correctional Service Canada has confirmed there are two active cases of COVID-19 among staff at Mission Institution, but no prisoners have been infected.
They said all staff are required both wear medical masks and face shields throughout their shifts, masks have been provided to all inmates and all visitations have been cancelled.
“We are monitoring this situation closely and diligently, and continue to apply our infection prevention and control measures,” CSC said in an email.
“CSC has put in place extensive infection prevention and control measures across its 43 institutions. These include mandatory mask wearing for inmates and staff, physical distancing measures, active health screening of anyone entering our institutions, increased and enhanced cleaning and disinfection at sites, training 250 employees to conduct contact tracing and carrying out significant testing among inmates and staff.”
A new COVID-19 case has been connected to Mission Institution, the site of B.C.’s largest prison outbreak in the spring.
Families are terrified that new cases could signal another large outbreak but have been told little, Joanne Fry, the mother of one inmate said Saturday morning. She said she has confirmed at least one new case. Meanwhile, corrections officers have been told two staff members have tested positive, The News has learned.
Last spring an outbreak infected a dozen guards and more than 100 inmates – nearly half of the prisoner population. One prisoner died during that outbreak.
The first case was diagnosed on Tuesday, Nov. 11, according to Joanne Fry, whose son is a prisoner at the site and organized the Mission Prison Family Association after the outbreak. Fry said the facility went into a lockdown on Wednesday to restrict inmate movement. But she says she has been able to learn little else. With Fraser Health having yet to issue a public notice about the facility and a lack of communication from the Correctional Service of Canada, Fry says family members have been left in the dark.
“As usual, CSC and Mission Institution avoid any slight type of communication or liaison,” she said. “We have no way of getting updates, we don’t know how many have tested positive. We don’t know if they learned a thing from the last experience.”
Fry she hopes the media coverage of the last outbreak – and the lawsuit her group has filed – will prompt a better response this time at Mission.
Two staff cases were also diagnosed in September, but the virus didn’t charge through the facility as it had several months before.
But Fry says there hasn’t been any sign of better communication with families, and that the lack of information has inflicted “trauma” on people worried about their loved ones.
“We’re talking about 300 human beings here … and if you don’t give a damn about inmates, think about what all the families are going through.”
The News has tried to contact the prison and the union that represents corrections officers, but hasn’t yet received a response. The News has also asked Fraser Health for more information on the situation at the prison.
Fry said she has been in touch with the union, and that they have also expressed concern about how the facility handled the last outbreak – and how it might handle the next one.
At the start of October, the prison was operating with just 60 per cent of its force of guards, with 21 employees self-isolating after the September COVID cases.
Derek Chin, the president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers for the Pacific Region, said at the time that guards were feeling the strain.
“Things aren’t always great at that site when it comes to labour relations,” Chin said. “There have been a lot of officers that have been worked pretty hard, lots of hours, they feel under-appreciated.”
At that time, the CSC said staff had “shown flexibility and some have worked extended hours,” to keep the prison running.
“Mission Institution anticipates being able to return to regular activities as soon as the staff have been cleared from self isolation,” CSC said.
Now Fry worries another outbreak would be a recipe for disaster.
“You’ve got two groups of people who are both in real bad places. That is a crisis waiting to happen.”
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