B.C. records first COVID-19 case in a provincial prison

It involves an inmate at the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver, a 378-cell prison that opened in 2016 and the largest provincial jail in B.C.

B.C.’s provincial prison system has recorded its first case of COVID-19 as jail officials work to release low-risk inmates to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease.

BC Corrections and Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, confirmed the case on Thursday afternoon. It involves an inmate at the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver, a 378-cell prison that opened in 2016 and the largest provincial jail in B.C.

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The positive test was recorded late in the day on Wednesday. According to BC Corrections, the prisoner who tested positive was isolated at the onset of symptoms and no one else on his unit has shown any signs of the disease.

Henry said steps have been in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in B.C.’s prison system.

“Definitely correctional facilities have been on the radar screen from the beginning,” she said, noting measures put in place last month including restricting visitors, frequent health checks and implementing mandatory isolation for inmates showing symptoms.

Henry also said steps were taken to make sure prison officials had “rapid access” to testing.

“There are things we can do in those facilities to support this,” she said. “So far, there’s no other cases, but it takes time, as we know, after an exposure where people can develop this disease. … It’s always challenging in these closed environments.”

On Wednesday, BC Corrections confirmed to KTW it had started to release non-violent inmates to reduce the population of the province’s prisons in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease.

Last month, an inmate and staff member at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, a maximum-security prison in west Kamloops, expressed to KTW their concerns about COVID-19 cases emerging in the facility. The staffer told KTW it is impossible to maintain social-distancing measures in the prison.

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