COVID-19 continues to impact staff and inmates at correctional centres across the province, including Regina Correctional Centre, where as of Friday 98 inmates and 28 staff members have tested positive for the virus.
Correctional officers along with other front-line workers will start being prioritized for vaccinations once the age eligibility drops to 40, which is expected to happen on April 28.
“Quite frankly, this should have happened months and months ago,” said Barry Nowoselsky, chair of the SGEU Public Service/Government Employment (PS/GE) negotiating committee.
Nowoselsky said that five inmates and one staff member were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday.
Provincial data also shows that there is at least one positive COVID-19 case at six out of 11 provincially-run correctional centres.
Nowoselsky called this situation avoidable.
“Hundreds and hundreds of staff, hundreds and hundreds of inmates could have been saved, but (Health Minister Paul Merriman) chose not to have those vaccinations as a priority for those people. And that’s concerning.”
Other corrections centres in the province are also dealing with COVID-19 cases.
As of Friday, Saskatoon Correctional Centre and Prince Albert Correctional Centre each had two active cases among inmates. Pine Grove Correctional Centre had one active case in an inmate, and one staff member at Paul Dojack centre has COVID-19.
Nowoselsky also wants to see inmates prioritized for vaccines. He said only 94 out of nearly 1,800 in the entire province have been vaccinated as of Friday.
“It’s got a long ways to go to be anywhere close to being a safe environment. Right now, each one of these facilities is still and continues to be the potential hotspots in the province,” he added.
Minister of Health Paul Merriman addressed prioritizing inmates for vaccines but maintained that due to a limited supply the province will continue offering them in age-based sequencing.
“The offenders at corrections will get theirs done when their age sequencing comes up,” Merriman told reporters on Friday.
“We’re continually looking at [this] but right now the reality is we got a three-day supply of vaccine this week. That’s a very challenging problem for us to have when there are multiple groups that want to be prioritized when we only get a three-day supply of vaccines in seven days. That’s the number one problem here,” Merriman added.
Nowoselsky pointed to the situation in the United States, where many correctional officers have lost their lives to COVID-19.
“You think we’d be doing everything possible up here to ensure those things couldn’t happen, that we’d prevent them from happening, and we’ve done exactly the opposite. We sat on our hands and let that virus take hold in the facilities and it was absolutely avoidable,” he said.
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