Third inmate tests positive for COVID-19 at Edmonton Remand Centre

A third inmate who was released Monday from the Edmonton Remand Centre has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The positive case was identified that same day, before the person was released, Alberta Health Services confirmed Tuesday.

"My understanding is that the most recent case was identified as a part of their routine intake process, where admissions to the facility are quarantined and tested and that they are not in close contact with the rest of the general population," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during an update later on Tuesday. "And that this particular third case was identified as part of that screening process."

"As has been with the first two cases, the protocols are preventing transmission from occurring further within that facility."

Patient provided with PPE

The inmate was admitted four days earlier on July 30 and showed no symptoms at the time. As per protocol, the prisoner was swabbed, placed into quarantine and checked daily, AHS wrote in an email.

"All contacts in the quarantine cohort are being swabbed for COVID-19," AHS said. "Public health was notified and the patient was provided full PPE and instructions to self-isolate. Public health has initiated contact tracing."

All admissions each day are housed in one unit for 14 days, which forms a quarantine cohort, AHS said. When inmates are let out of their cells, they are in small cohorts where physical distancing can be maintained. When distancing cannot be maintained, PPE is provided.

Staff working on the unit are now restricted from working on other units until further notice from the medical officer of health.

"This case shows our public health protocols are working, responding quickly as soon as a case is identified," the health department said.

Second case in a week

It's the second case in a week where an inmate has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

On July 29, health officials identified another positive case involving a patient who had been released two days earlier. Similarly, the inmate showed no signs of illness on July 24 when arriving and health officials followed the same procedures to contain the virus.

An inmate also tested positive at the ERC on July 15.

As of July 30, a total of eight cases had been reported at provincial facilities across Alberta. A total of 4,957 swab tests were conducted between March 15 and July 30.

The safety of people who are in correctional facilities — both inmates and staff — is of course as important as the safety of any other Albertan," - Dr. Deena Hinshaw

Last month, a group of lawyers warned that ongoing violations of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at Alberta jails was putting inmates and staff at high risk.

Their letter, sent to Hinshaw, cited a June court ruling that granted a bail review in part due to what the judge considered unsatisfactory compliance at the ERC with provincial protocols to curb COVID-19.

Tom Engel, the lawyer who represented the accused, said the case revealed that there is no audit or compliance mechanism in place to ensure guidelines were being followed in jails.

"The safety of people who are in correctional facilities — both inmates and staff — is of course as important as the safety of any other Albertan," Hinshaw said when asked by CBC News about those concerns on Tuesday.

"It sounds like there are some issues that have been identified which I can't comment on extensively."

Compliance measures to be discussed

Hinshaw said she had not had an opportunity to consider whether audits or other compliance measures should be implemented to help keep inmates and staff safe, as they have been, for instance, with Edmonton's new mandatory face-mask bylaw.

"I know our team has had some conversations with justice and solicitor general, and so we can take that away and have some more questions and discussion with them about that particular aspect."

AHS said prevention protocols are in place at all correctional facilities, both for staff and for inmates.

Protocols include isolating patients as required, providing staff with appropriate personal protective equipment, assessing inmates for exposure and symptoms at minimum once per day and assessing and swabbing inmates when they arrive, AHS said.