Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. We appreciate the opportunity to update you on the current status of COVID-19 cases in our institutions, before continuing with an overview of the Correctional Service of Canada's, or CSC's, testing approach and plans moving forward.
Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to be able to report that thanks to the tireless efforts of staff, and because of the exceptional measures taken, we have only one remaining active COVID-19 case among inmates across our 43 institutions.
Since the pandemic began, we have had outbreaks in five of our 43 institutions, with 360 inmates testing positive out of a total of 13,900 inmates. There are 357, or 99%, who have fully recovered. One inmate from the federal training centre in Quebec remains in hospital, but not in the intensive care unit, and we have had two deaths.
Of the five outbreaks, four are fully resolved, meaning that 28 days have elapsed since the last positive case. Our last outbreak at the federal training centre in Quebec will be declared over tomorrow, if there are no new cases. It is worth noting that we had no outbreaks in the Atlantic and the prairie regions, and the one in Ontario was limited to eight inmates in one institution.
Among CSC staff, out of 142 of our employees who have tested positive to date, 132, or 93%, have fully recovered.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize the extraordinary efforts made by our employees for their ongoing work under these exceptional and challenging circumstances.
From the outset of the pandemic, CSC took a proactive approach, guided by public health authorities and working closely with our union partners, to ensure the health and safety of staff and offenders in all of our institutions. When the pandemic was declared on March 11, we focused heavily on preventing the introduction of the virus in our institutions by quickly suspending visits from the public, temporary absences except when medically necessary, work releases and inter-regional transfers.
At the end of March, the virus was introduced into one of our facilities, and the goal became the prevention of its spread. Over time, that included measures such as strengthening infection and prevention control measures, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols; actively screening all staff at the front entrance; moving to unit-based staffing to prevent staff rotation throughout the institutions; training staff on donning and doffing PPE; limiting the movement of inmates; conducting daily wellness checks for signs of symptomatic inmates; immediately testing for COVID-19 anyone reporting symptoms; medically isolating, for 14 days, inmates with symptoms or who had tested positive for the virus, or who were being admitted to federal custody; working with local public health authorities to ensure inmates’ access to local hospital care, if required; issuing masks to staff, symptomatic and positive inmates, and then to all inmates; implementing our own tracing capability by training over 200 of our employees; and reconfiguring our CORCAN shops to produce disposable and washable masks and gowns.
CSC has also worked with the Public Health Agency and local health departments and community experts to have independent, expert-led reviews completed in all of its facilities. To date, all 43 of CSC’s institutions have had an infection prevention and control review or an environmental health review completed. The reviews acknowledge that COVID-19 is difficult to contain in closed environments and recognize the strong front-line leadership and the commitment of CSC staff to prevent and contain the spread of the virus.
There's also a reminder of the importance of training staff on donning and doffing PPE, having strong cleaning and disinfecting practices, and limiting the movement of staff and inmates to prevent spread. None of the findings are insurmountable but they will require continued focus to be sustainable in the months to come. Work is currently under way to ensure CSC is well positioned moving forward.
Now I'd like to speak briefly about CSC's testing strategy. First, health care staff actively screen and monitor all inmates for COVID-19 symptoms. As previously mentioned, CSC medically isolates inmates who are newly admitted to CSC or returning to CSC as a result of a suspension or revocation of their release, inmates who have symptoms or who have tested positive and their close contacts until medically cleared, and inmates who are released into the community from an institution in which there is an outbreak, on the recommendation of local public health.
With respect to staff, any employee who is symptomatic or who has tested positive as well as their close contacts must self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days including two consecutive days symptom-free. Currently, symptomatic inmates and staff get tested. Contact tracing is then completed and testing is offered to those in close contact. Inmates and staff who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 when there is an outbreak also get tested. Following any positive test, contact tracing is completed and testing is offered.
Moving forward, CSC will offer testing based on its recently expanded testing strategy. The strategy is responsive to CSC's closed environment, is well received by the unions and exceeds most, if not all, provincial testing strategies. In addition to the testing currently completed, the expanded testing strategy includes testing of all inmates at time of admission or return to federal custody. This is in addition to the 14-day medical isolation that will continue. It also includes testing of all inmates prior to their release into the community. Positive results will be reported to the local public health authorities and a plan jointly developed.
Finally, the expanded testing strategy also includes expanding the testing of staff and inmates in institutions located in areas where the rate of community transmission is elevated, which is called asymptomatic surveillance. For any positive tests, contact tracing will be completed and testing offered. The testing will be offered again over several weeks or months as long as communities in which the institutions are found continue to have elevated transmission. There are currently four areas in the Quebec region that have high rates of community transmission, and there are seven institutions located within those four areas. Testing has been offered to all staff working in the institutions in the Laval area.
CSC currently has sufficient capacity to test all symptomatic inmates, which it is currently doing. However, the expanded testing capacity will be achieved through partnerships. CSC has already begun reaching out to health partners to increase its capacity through MOUs with public health authorities as well as contracts with private labs. The strategy will be implemented in a phased approach over the next several weeks and months as MOUs and contracts are finalized. In order to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 in the months to come, especially as CSC starts easing some of the restrictions it has imposed, the expanded testing strategy will be of critical importance. Although the institutions were never closed, measures were taken to prevent and contain the spread of the virus. Visits were suspended and programming was curtailed.
To shape our new normal, I've put in place a governance structure made up of subject matter experts, union partners and senior managers from different sectors of CSC, including regional representatives. External stakeholders are also involved, including our citizens' advisory committee chair and non-governmental organizations. This approach allows us to examine what needs to resume and when, as well as the safeguards that need to be put in place. Our approach will be gradual, likely vary across different regions, and take into account public health advice.
As a first step, we would be looking at reinstating small group programming for inmates at some institutions, as this is key to their successful rehabilitation and to public safety.
In conclusion, as I say often, there is no greater responsibility than having the care and custody of other human beings. As commissioner, I appreciate the work of our staff, partners, stakeholders and volunteers for their amazing efforts during these extraordinary times.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I'll be happy to respond to any questions you may have.