The number of COVID-19 cases in federally operated B.C. prisons has jumped from none two weeks ago to 41 as of April 13.
That’s half of the 82 cases at 50 federal institutions across Canada.
The infected individuals are at Mission Medium Institution, with another single case at Pacific Regional Treatment Centre in Abbotsford. To assist with those infected, a mobile medical unit capable of holding five-six inmates has been set up in a guarded area at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
Fraser Health Authority CEO Dr. Victoria Lee said there are two guards for each inmate at the hospital site.
Fraser Health has also begun using virtual health care with specialists consulting through technology at Mission Institution.
The B.C. figures account for half of the 82 positive COVID-19 identifications in federal prisons.
The bulk of the remainder are in Quebec, primarily at Joliette Institution (17), Federal Training Centre Medium (5) and Port-Cartier Institution (10). The last is where B.C. serial killer Robert Pickton is being held.
In total, 313 tests have been done in the federal system, with some results still pending, according to Correctional Service Canada figures.
And, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers said, 65 guards across Canada have been infected, six of them at Mission.
Eighteen guards from Port-Cartier and 38 from Joliette are infected.
The figures have led to prison advocacy groups to call for the release of as many federally incarcerated people as possible in order to fight COVID-19.
Justin Piché of the Abolition Coalition asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair how they intended to flatten the curve of infections in prison populations.
“If they continue to batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass – which is clearly failing in Port-Cartier, Joliette, Grand Valley and Mission institutions – the only depopulation of penitentiaries that’ll occur under their watch will be through hospitalizations and deaths in custody,” Piché said. “If they’re in favour of retroactive death penalties, they should be up front with the public. If they want to save lives, they need to get on with the business of safely releasing human beings from prison”.
The union maintains calls for prisoner release signal “a complete disregard for public safety.”
“The release of a few inmates would not solve the potential spread of COVID-19 in our facilities; it would only increase the risk for Canadians,” the union said March 31. It confirmed that stance April 14.
“The focus must be on changing routines in our institutions to respect social distancing and self-isolation directives to every extent possible. Canada is in crisis, and its citizens are already dealing with a potentially deadly threat. It is irresponsible to introduce further threats into our communities.”
Sen. Kim Pate has called on Ottawa to release prisoners nearing the ends of their sentences. She’s said practicing of social distancing in prisons is almost impossible, making prisons dangerous places.