Okanagan Correctional Centre has COVID-19 case

'Almost a death sentence'

UPDATE: 4:25 p.m.

Despite some measures put in place to prevent COVID-19 from getting into British Columbian jails, the first confirmed case of the virus has been discovered at Oliver's Okanagan Correctional Centre.

During Thursday's daily press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed the inmate tested positive Wednesday night.

“The person who became ill was isolated and the people in the pod that he was in are all being monitored now," she said. "So far, there's no other cases, but it takes time after an exposure, where people can develop this disease.”

Dr. Henry said the government has been concerned about the virus getting into the province's jails, due to the "closed environment" of the facilities.

"There were measures that were put in place some weeks ago – restricting visitors, doing health checks and making sure there was rapid access to testing should people become ill because of the communal setting," Dr. Henry said. “There were measures in place as well for new people coming into the facility to be isolated for 14 days."

The Ministry of Health has not said how they believe the man contracted the virus. 

BC Corrections has said they're assessing low-risk criminals for possible early release in light of the pandemic, but Dr. Henry wouldn't comment on that, saying it's up to the Minister of Public Safety and the Solicitor General.

ORIGINAL: 2:50 p.m.

Inmates at Okanagan Correctional Centre have been told a COVID-19 case has been detected at the facility, confirmed by the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry Thursday afternoon. 

Francis Amendt, a senior and mother of an incarcerated man, said her son called her early Thursday morning with the news. 

"He called at 8 o'clock this morning and said one of the inmates there has COVID-19," she said. "They don't know how he got it so they don't know how many people are going to end up being infected now."

According to Amendt, her son said the infected man has been incarcerated for six months so may have gotten the virus from a corrections officer or a lawyer, and that he is a member of her son's unit. 

"There's about 40 people in the area that he is in, really no bigger than an average house, and they are allowed to move around and interact. So by the time this guy's symptoms showed up, who knows how many people he had interacted with?" Amendt said. 

Her son has just 18 days left in his sentence, having been locked up since January. She wonders whether this will affect his release. 

"Will he even be allowed to get out? Where do they go for quarantine?" she said, explaining that they had planned for him to come home and live with her and her husband, but as senior citizens, that's concerning.

Shannon Vieville is another woman who heard news of COVID-19 in the correctional centre, receiving a call from her boyfriend Lonnie Adams, an inmate, Thursday morning. 

"He called me and said 'Baby, there's an outbreak, the warden came and told us this morning,'" Vieville said. 

Her boyfriend has six months left in his sentence and has been behind bars for a year and a half. Vieville says he is a unit representative and has been cleaning up his act while incarcerated, and is terrified the virus might halt his progress. 

"He's come a long way in his life and he deserves not to die that's for sure," Vieville said. 

Amendt said her son worries that the virus will take lives. 

"He feels it's almost a death sentence for some of them that are in there. Some people are not the healthiest," she said. "If this starts spreading through the jails it's going to be very serious."

Castanet has reached out to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General for comment and will update this story with details when provided. 

Dr. Henry said this is the second community outbreak following the Bylands Nursery outbreak in West Kelowna earlier this week.

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