Three staff and two inmates at Red Deer Remand Centre have been diagnosed with COVID-19 infections, says Alberta Justice.
An outbreak was declared on Nov. 28 at the facility, which has a staff of 72 overseeing up to 146 inmates and is located next to the Red Deer Provincial Courthouse.
Red Deer Remand has only recorded a handful of cases so far, compared to other facilities, and is not on current outbreak status.
Other prisons have been much harder hit. Calgary Remand Centre reportedly had 262 cases, including 226 inmates, 35 staff and one contractor, as of last Saturday.
Earlier this month, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees announced a correctional officer in his 50s working at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre had died after contracting COVID-19.
Families of inmates and lawyers who had clients behind bars were critical of the Calgary Remand Centre’s handling of the pandemic and the lack of masks for inmates and the bleated use of masks by prison staff.
The wife of an inmate at Red Deer Remand Centre told the Advocate she was concerned about the lack of protection available to her husband and other inmates.
Guards had access to gloves and masks but prisoners do not, she said. Some already have medical issues that make them more vulnerable.
“They have no masks at all. They’re just wearing their regular inmate clothes,” she said.
“It’s not fair that your guards can come in wearing masks and full PPE gear and the inmates are not given masks at all.”
The woman, who lives in Calgary, said it was stressful to think that her husband could be exposed to the virus and possibly bring it home when he is released.
The woman said she plans to contact Alberta Health Services and prison officials to urge them to make masks readily available to inmates.
Alberta Justice says COVID-19 is taken seriously — at all provincial correctional and remand facilities.
“Precautions and preventative actions include using robust infection prevention protocols for the safety of both provincial inmates and staff,” says Alberta Justice in a statement.
“There is a strong partnership with AHS, as they provide onsite inmate health care services delivery, including the implementation of COVID -19 protocols.”
Many safety protocols have been in place since March.
All incoming inmates are tested for the virus and quarantined for two weeks and then kept in the same cohort to limit the potential for the infection to spread between groups.
Inmates showing any symptoms are medically isolated to prevent possible infection spread.
“Inmates who have tested positive are separated into small groups, as per medical officer of health guidelines. This aids physical distancing and restricts transmission between groups, as per AHS guidelines.”
“Physical distancing, regular hand washing/hand sanitizer and masking when unable to maintain a minimum of two metres with others are ongoing protections.”
“When out of their cells all quarantining inmates have room to maintain physical distancing, and where this is not possible PPE is provided.”
Outside visits have been suspended as have all adult and youth inmate programs, unless approved through senior management and AHS.
Staff are screened for symptoms before each shift and AHS correctional health service staff and corrections manager monitor the facility daily to ensure guidelines and processes are followed, says Alberta Justice.