The report this evening of the continuing rise in COVID-19 cases at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, though not surprising, is worrying.
According to the latest round of results, there are now 294 cases at the prison, including wardens and inmates.
We accept this evening’s assurance from Minister of Health and Wellness Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic that despite the increase, with possibly more cases to come, there is still capacity within the prison to isolate patients from the rest of the prison population.
He told journalists at the first virtual press conference led by the new COVID-19 health communications team that an upgraded medical facility which was not part of the isolation centre also had capacity because there were not many patients.
He added that there was ongoing work at the prison to ensure that the sick were isolated from the healthy.
Lt. Col. Bostic disclosed: “We provided a Public Health Officer, who is there, and there are also persons from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital isolation facility that go daily and take care of these persons. “The team that is working with those inmates, those patients, is a very experienced team.”
Declaring that the condition of inmates was not critical, the Health Minister noted that the large number of cases involved still made the situation critical.
“It is a prison and that’s why we’ve added additional resources there from other institutions and entities to make sure that we have everything going at the prison as best as we can, at this time,” he said, stressing that giving inmates the best level of care was a priority.
No doubt the situation at HMP Dodds must be concerning for the families on the outside anxious for the welfare of their loved ones and it should matter to right-thinking Barbadians.
Incarcerated or not, prisoners are people too. Those who guard them are guardians of our safe and stable nation.
It goes without saying that the prison system was not designed for the challenges of COVID-19; for example, physical distancing.
So every effort must be made to take care of all within the prison compound as a matter of priority. If not, the virus could potentially lead to negative outcomes for at-risk prisoners and staff.
Perhaps, then with possibly more cases to come, Government may have to consider how early COVID-19 vaccine could be best deployed.
We are aware that Prime Minister Mottley indicated last week that the country could soon receive at least four initial doses for leading frontline officials, but perhaps an aggressive effort should be made to secure the vaccine for the prison. And why not? The prison is a secure facility on this island, not an island entire unto itself.
Not only should we be concerned about more people within the penal facility getting sick, but there’s the pressure on our limited health personnel, the mounting needs and costs of resources including personal protective equipment, masks, sanitizing material and more. And certainly not least, the rising number of cases among prison wardens means that personnel shortages could soon reach a critical stage.
Vaccination could possibly curb this.
In addition, the spread of COVID-19 in our prisons could no doubt lead to the eventual spread of hte viral illness in the rest of our communities by prison staff and released inmates.
We accept that this is not an easy decision and much has to be thought through. But we must also be mindful of our duty to battle a microbe not fellow Barbadians, regardless of their station in life. The decision is the Government’s to heed public health science.
While we know there is a likely order – officials, frontline workers and at-risk groups, the conditions warrant consideration of the prison. To do otherwise would be cruel and unusual punishment. Our constitution forbids it. And it is not who we are.