THUNDER BAY— The president of OPSEU Local 737 says he's proud of his members for working diligently during the worrisome spread of COVID-19 at the Thunder Bay District Jail.
Referring to his fellow correctional officers, Bill Hayes said Wednesday "they continue to show up in true jail fashion, coming together during a crisis. They really wanna get this resolved."
The outbreak began with a report of only one inmate testing positive on Jan. 5.
By Jan. 10, as the results of contact tracing and testing came in, it expanded to four inmates, then mushroomed two days later to 14 cases.
A lockdown remains in place, meaning prisoner activities within the jail are significantly curtailed.
Hayes said there is no sign yet that the virus has spread to any staff, but they are "very concerned" about the potential for further infections.
"We know that anybody could potentially have it but they've been awesome. They've been showing up to work, and showing up with purpose, following all the safety precautions and wearing the appropriate PPE. So I hope they continue to do that, and we're gonna beat this," Hayes said.
He said the first COVID case involved an inmate in the intake unit, and the virus then spread to the adjacent unit.
"Hopefully we're able to contain it there...We've always said that once it gets in here, it's going to be trouble controlling it. We're still dealing with lots of overcrowding issues."
According to Hayes, most inmates have volunteered to be tested for COVID-19.
Although there's been some pushback, he said almost everyone realizes how important it is to get tested.
Inmates who test positive are placed under what the Ministry of the Solicitor General describes as "droplet precautions" and are isolated while receiving medical care.
Hayes said correctional officers will be tested over the next two days.
"We're hoping all staff come down and get tested. The more staff and inmates who get tested, the better idea we have of the scope of the issues that we're dealing with inside the institution, and we don't risk spreading it outside the institution."
The public needs to keep in mind, he said, that whether inmates have COVID-19 or not, they will be released from the jail once they have served their time.
"We'll take all the steps we can in here, and work with public health on the outside to make sure this doesn't spread through the community," Hayes added.