There is no need for blanket testing of the prison system. This from epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds in response to a call from the president of the Prison Officer Association, Ceron Richards, to test everyone in the prison system due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 update, Dr Hinds said that who was tested for the virus was driven by contact tracing and it, therefore, would not be necessary to test broadly across the system.
Similarly, he said that contact tracing also determined who was quarantined, and there would be no recommendation to quarantine attendees of either the ‘zess’ party in Caroni or the wedding in Valsayn reported over the weekend. He added, from an epidemiological standpoint, there was no distinction in risk between either event.
When asked about the safety measures in place to reduce the spread of the virus in prisons, Dr Hinds said prison medical professionals identified and isolated those found to be infected.
He added: “… the extent to which [hygiene and physical distancing] is possible within the prison system would then improve whatever outcomes they have.”
In a media release posted on its official Facebook page on Sunday 22 November 2020, the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service said in addition to protocols to separate and quarantine infected inmates from the general population, it was enforcing safety measures meant to control the spread of the virus.
According to the release, temperature and oxygen saturation levels are checked twice daily, the frequency of sanitisation has been increased, the movement and transfer of prisoners have been reduced and wearing masks or face shields is mandatory.
The prison service communications department, when asked by Wired868, said these safety measures extended to all prisoners. Up until the time of publishing, they did not respond to how long inmates wore masks during the day.
But 509 inmates in remand at Golden Grove maximum security prison tell a different story. The group of inmates, known as the Justice Seekers Association, have issued a pre-action protocol letter against the attorney general for breach of constitutional rights in failure to contain the spread of Covid-19 within the prisons.
They say they have received an inadequate supply of soap, no hand sanitisers and have not had access to running water in their cells for a year.
The claim requests that prisoners be supplied with bleach, disinfectant, soap, water and rubber gloves so that they may clean the cells daily themselves since, they assert, they are not being sanitised by the prison.
They also said with at least seven inmates to a cell, social distancing was not possible.
As for the general population who can choose to gather in large groups or not, Dr Hinds said: “The virus does not discriminate between one setting or another if protocols are not followed to prevent the transmission of illness.”
The Ministry of Health reported 25 new positive cases of the virus, bringing total active cases to 737. There are 43 patients in hospital, 28 in step-down facilities and 158 in state quarantine facilities. There are 174 prison inmates in quarantine.
In total, there have been 6,475 cases of Covid-19 reported since March. The death toll is 115.