COVID-19 outbreak at Ontario Police College

·3 min read

The Ontario Police College (OPC) has suspended in-person learning in response to a COVID-19 outbreak identified among at least 65 staff and students, and is working to evaluate virtual options for courses.

The Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed on Monday, March 1 that 61 students and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

The ministry did not answer several questions from the Express about details of the outbreak, including how so many cases could spread so quickly despite strict safety protocols being in place, and if there was a single event attributed to the spread.

However, a person who has been inside the college multiple times throughout the COVID pandemic told the Express that they were concerned with an apparent lack of safety enforcement, particularly around face coverings.

They had often seen “quite a few” personnel – mainly instructors – walking around the building without masks on, sometimes in groups with others. They saw the same people begin to wear masks in similar situations after the recent outbreak was reported, suggesting they didn’t have a medical exemption before. “They’re wearing them now.”

They were worried about the example that set for recruits at the beginning of their professional careers in public safety. After class, recruits might be in their “pods” socializing in close proximity without masks.

They noted many of the recruits would return to their home communities on weekends.

Ministry of the Solicitor General spokesperson Brent Ross previously told the Express in September that police recruits are permitted to leave campus. Police recruits are expected to comply with COVID-19 health requirements when off campus. Upon return, they are required to undergo screening, including daily temperature checks.

Southwestern Public Health unit mandated face coverings in workplaces (even those not open to the public) and indoor public areas. In indoor areas accessible only to employees, face coverings can be removed if physical distancing is maintained.

The outbreak was first identified on Monday, Feb. 22. All staff and recruits – about 700 – were tested on Thursday, Feb. 25 and received their results in the following days.

The case count soared to 65 on Monday, March 1, up from 27 the previous week. Recruits with a positive test are now self-isolating at the college, the ministry said.

Southwestern Public Health said there was not a specific event that contributed to this outbreak.

“We do not have any evidence that this outbreak was caused by a variant of concern,” said SWPH spokesperson Megan Cornwell, adding the health unit does not believe there is a risk to the public.

The ministry said they have worked closely with the health unit to implement health and safety measures, including mandatory screening of staff and students, isolation as appropriate, on-site testing, and providing personal protective equipment.

Recruits have been grouped into “pods” that consist of 8 to 10 people living together. They reside in individual bedrooms and share one to two bathrooms and a common area.

Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express