COVID 19: Outbreak-hit Ontario Police College staff, recruits to get vaccine from mobile clinic

·3 min read

Staff and recruits at the Ontario Police College near Aylmer, the site of a COVID-19 outbreak last month that infected more than 110 people and halted in-person classes, are being prioritized for vaccination by the local health unit.

Mobile teams will be at the college Wednesday vaccinating hundreds of recruits and instructors against COVID-19 as Southwestern Public Health, which covers Elgin and Oxford counties, moves toward inoculating those in high-risk congregate living settings.

In-person learning for basic constable training resumed Monday after being suspended for more than a month following the COVID-19 outbreak.

It was the second time in-person learning has resumed at the college amid a provincial stay-at-home order and while elementary and secondary schools have been shuttered.

Megan Cornwall, the health unit’s spokesperson, said there have been two outbreaks at the college since the pandemic began, with 128 cases linked to the site and more spilling over into other communities.

“There have been secondary cases of infection in the households of (Ontario Police College) staff members and recruits,” she said. “These cases have involved the resources of 25 public health units across the province.”

Cornwall said some vaccinations at the police college began last Wednesday, administered by Oxford County EMS and Medavie Elgin.

Some staff were offered a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month, said Andrew Morrison, a spokesperson for the Office of the Solicitor General, which oversees the college.

“Protecting recruits and staff at the (Ontario Police College) is a high priority for the ministry,” he said in an email.

Other safety measures include symptom screening, rapid COVID-19 testing throughout the week and masks required to be worn “at all times outside of living quarters.”

Recruits were required to provide a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus this week.

The decision to vaccinate staff and recruits at the college comes in the wake of Aylmer’s N5H postal code being designated a COVID-19 hot spot by the province.

While police officers and most other essential workers aren’t yet eligible for vaccination under the province’s vaccination strategy, individuals living in high-risk congregate living settings are eligible under the current Phase 2 stage.

Cornwall said high-risk congregate settings include residential facilities with shared common sleeping areas, bathrooms, kitchens and dining spaces.

Recruits and instructors live on-site at the college Monday to Friday.

“Police recruits are encouraged to remain at the college until training is completed on May 5,” Morrison said.

In-person classes for the latest cohort of 438 recruits from across Ontario began in January amid the previous provincewide stay-at-home order.

In late February, in-person learning was suspended after a COVID-19 outbreak on the campus and resumed this week with the enhanced safety protocols and vaccination plan in place.

One local health advocate said the decision to deploy mobile teams to the police college raises questions about which essential workers and living settings are being prioritized over others.

“If they weren’t first responders . . . there would be a great argument to be made about why is this college so special,” said Peter Bergmanis with the London Health Coalition, a grassroots advocacy group. “What makes the people training at a (police) college more important than say a grocery store clerk?”

Bergmanis said while it’s positive to see mobile vaccination clinics starting to be deployed, they aren’t being used enough and should be implemented in more high-risk settings and neighbourhoods.

“A big metropolis like London has not had (mobile clinics) when we’ve been begging for it for months prior to the COVID variants exploding,” he said. “Mobile clinics should’ve been out there right from the get-go.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press