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Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in midst of largest COVID outbreak in Ontario jails | CBC News

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About 15 per cent of inmates at London’s troubled provincial jail are infected with COVID-19, a worry because there is little room to isolate and many inside have underlying health conditions that could make the virus more deadly. 

According to provincial data, 60 inmates at the jail, which currently has 395 inmates, are actively battling the virus as of Wednesday. Fifty-three inmates at the Toronto South Detention Centre are sick with COVID, but that jail houses around 800 inmates. 

“It’s a congregate living setting, where we know that once Omicron, in particular, is introduced, transmission can happen very readily,” said Dr. Alex Summers, the Middlesex-London region’s acting medical officer of health.

“I am sure that the transmission of Omicron in the facility is higher than in the general community, and it’s a different environment, one that is susceptible to rapid transmission.” 

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As of this week, 23 staff members have active cases of the virus, the Middlesex-London Health Unit told CBC News.

The outbreak among inmates at the jail was at its highest last week, when 69 inmates had active cases of COVID-19 on Jan. 12 and 13. 

The jail, located on Exeter Road, was described as overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous by the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner after a visit in 2019. Since 2009, 19 inmates have died inside the jail. 

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Isolating ‘a challenge’

While the numbers aren’t surprising, it doesn’t mean they’re not concerning, Summers said. 

“The numbers reflect to me the fact that we have substantial COVID transmission in the community and that’s reflective at EMDC, where we know we are doing testing and we’re doing follow-up to in order to try to limit transmission in that setting.” 

Isolating “can be a challenge” in the overcrowded facility, and the large number of people going in and out can also exacerbate the situation. 

While the health unit was running vaccination clinics inside EMDC a few months ago, that has been taken over by the Ministry of the Solicitor General, which runs Ontario’s jails.

“The ministry continues to work with the Middlesex-London Health Unit to support testing of inmates and staff to inform contact tracing and help determine any isolation and further testing requirements for high risk close contacts,” a spokesperson for the ministry said in a written statement.

“Any inmate that tests positive for COVID-19 is placed on droplet and contact precautions and isolated from the rest of the inmate population while they receive appropriate medical care.”

The ministry has its own supply of COVID vaccines and makes them eligible to inmates, the spokesperson said. 

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Inmates are screened and tested when they enter jails, and new inmates are held in a separate area from the general population for two weeks, he added. Staff wear masks at all times. 

Have you recently been released from the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre or do you have a loved one who is currently there? Would you like to share your story with us? Email [email protected]

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