COVID-19 outbreak declared at Barton jail after inmate tests positive

A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (HWDC) after an inmate tested positive for the virus.

“The ministry is working with Hamilton Public Health Services to identify staff and other inmates who may be impacted,” wrote Kristy Denette, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, in an email to CBC.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical officer of health, also addressed the outbreak at the jail during a COVID-19 update Friday afternoon.

“One inmate has been confirmed,” she said, later adding staff will be providing outbreak control and infection management advice.

“We’ve been working with the detention centre over time to look at what the issues are and how can they minimize any chance of spread should a case occur there, and we’ll continue to do that,” said Richardson.

The case is the first for an inmate at the jail, but the second overall. A staff member tested positive at the end of March.

It comes after the ministry announced new steps, including making masks and temperature checks mandatory for all staff and visitors, to stop the spread of the virus.

The ministry is continuing to monitor the situation with public health officials, said Denette after the outbreak was declared Friday.

She noted each jail, including the HWDC, has an “individualized pandemic plan” set up with the help of health officials.

The ministry has also reduced the inmate population, provides masks to inmates as needed and houses new inmates in a separate area for 14 days, said Denette.

Two demonstrators hoist a banner reminding inmates that they’re not alone during a protest on April 14. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

“The health and safety of our staff and those in our custody is the top priority.”

Demonstrators surrounded the jail just 10 days ago, honking their horns and holding signs calling for inmates to be released amid the pandemic.

Lindsay Jennings, who works for PASAN, a community-based prisoner health and harm reduction organization in Toronto, was part of that protest.

“Folks inside don’t have the choice to social distance when they’re triple-bunking, double-bunking,” she said at the time. “If the virus comes inside an institution it’s going to spread like wildfire and we’ve seen that across the country.”

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