The Northwestern Health Unit is ‘strongly recommending’ that all staff and inmates within the Kenora Jail get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible, although the testing is voluntary.

Over the weekend, health unit staff confirmed two positive COVID-19 cases in inmates within the Kenora Jail, and one positive case in Wabaseemoong Independent Nation. This brings the region’s total cases to 25, and 22 of them are considered resolved.

Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Ian Gemmill, explains that the two adult inmates were not showing any COVID-19 symptoms, but they must have contracted the virus within the facility due to the time-line.

The two cases were found through presumptive testing taking place in correctional facilities and long-term care homes across the province, that aim to find any COVID-19 cases before they can turn into an outbreak.

“As a result of testing that was done last week at the Kenora Jail, two inmates were found to be positive without any symptoms. So we have no illness at the jail, but we do have a situation that we need to follow-up on,” said Gemmill, during his weekly conference with regional media.

“The two people who are infected are being isolated in the jail. We’ve had very good collaboration with the jail and all the staff there to ensure that the isolation was done, and how the quarantine of known contacts are being done to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread within the jail.”

Gemmill stressed that the health unit is working closely with the Kenora Jail and the Ministry of Correctional Services daily to implement further safety protocols to keep inmates and staff as safe as possible.

Gemmill says the Kenora Jail’s plans include:

- Placing the two inmates in isolation,
- The quarantine of any contacts of the inmates within their cell area,
- Voluntary COVID-19 testing of all inmates and staff out of caution,
- The enforcement of physical distancing,
- Making personal protective equipment available for all staff,
- Making masks available to inmates when they leave their cell area,
- Prohibiting visitors to the Kenora Jail,

“All of the things that need to be done have been put into place,” said Gemmill. “I know that overcrowding can be a risk factor, and we’re trying to address that in the best way possible. We’re satisfied that the jail officials are doing all of the things that we’ve asked them to do. I’m feeling very good about the collaboration.”

In January earlier this year, Ontario’s Human Rights Commissioner and OPSEU, which represents front-line correctional staff, called on the province to address the crisis in Ontario’s jail facilities after a visit to 10 Ontario jails, including Kenora’s.

The Kenora Jail was described as having inadequate physical and mental healthcare and treatment, extensive use of solitary confinement and segregation, as well as being grossly overcrowded.

The Kenora Jail serves as the district jail for northwestern Ontario.

For more information:
COVID-19 confirmed in Kenora jail
Kenora jail ‘in crisis’, human rights commissioner