Barbados’ largest Covid-19 cluster has been brought under control. At its peak, the cluster, which was located at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, comprised a total of 363 infected persons. This number included 85 prison officers, 261 inmates and 17 staff members. Today, only 7 Covid-positive persons remain to be medically discharged. Operations at the prison have so returned to normalcy, that Virtual Court will resume from the Prison effective today, Monday 1st February.
Minister of Home Affairs Hon Wilfred Abrahams, Superintendent of Prisons, Lt Col John Nurse and Dr Carl Ward, who was the Medical Officer of Health responsible for care and health systems at the prison during the outbreak, have expressed satisfaction with the progress made.
The outbreak at the prison started on December 31, last year with the diagnosis of a prison officer. COVID infection spread rapidly in the prison environment, but medical and prison officials moved swiftly to contain the outbreak. The Barbados Prison Service, working in conjunction with designated medical personnel, led by Drs Corey Forde and Carl Ward, engaged in an aggressive counter-Covid programme that has brought the outbreak under control. The programme involved extensive sanitisation of the prison combined with preventive scanning, testing, quarantining, and isolation of prison officers, civilian staff and inmates at Dodds.
The leadership of the prison also instituted the “observance and practice of the 4Es, engagement, education, encouragement and enforcement among all staff members and inmates.” The prison chief commented that, “while it is acknowledged that these protocols were easier to enforce in a prison type situation where conformity and compliance are more easily achieved, our success in this instance was based on the persistence and dedication of our staff who were continuously on site for 15 days, from December 21st. In the circumstances, the team at the prison mounted a heroic effort to maintain the prison and its standards during this difficult period.”
To achieve the dramatic reduction in cases, Dodds “stepped up” its medical facility with all necessary equipment and staff and readied that unit to handle any eventuality. As a result, the medical facility at HMP Dodds has been transformed into a full tertiary level COVID-19 treatment facility with ventilation capacity. The Superintendent also expressed appreciation for the support of Doctors Forde and Ward and the Ministry of Health and Wellness in guiding the approach adopted by the prison service. He added, “operational management and control during the outbreak could not have been achieved without the assistance and cooperation of the BDF and the RBPF who provided man-power to supplement depleted shifts.”
Lt Col Nurse’s comments of appreciation were echoed by Minister Abrahams who expressed the view that the support given to the Prison Service by members of the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Barbados Defence Force, ensured that the security and integrity of the prison were never compromised. Minister Abrahams extended the thanks of a grateful government to those dedicated officers who were on site for the first 15 days and those who quickly returned to duty after quarantine and in some cases, after isolation.
The Minister confirmed that while stringent quarantine and isolation rules prevented some prisoners who had completed their sentences from leaving during the lock down, all those inmates who have now completed their sentence and the programme for reintegration into society, have been released. The Minister indicated that while this delay in release of prisoners would have caused concern to inmates and their loved ones, as well as to the families of prison officers, who similarly were not allowed to leave the prison compound at that time, it was an absolutely necessary measure. He said that it was this stringency, strict adherence to protocols and an intensive education campaign which interrupted the spread of the disease and ensured that persons at the prison did not present a danger to their own families and to Barbados in general.
Both the Minister and the Superintendent of Prisons expressed the view that Dodds was a model in best practices for how an outbreak of Covid-19 could be managed within a prison setting. They opined that the experience at Dodds also provided valuable lessons that could be replicated for the community based programme intervention, ‘Operation Seek and Save.’ (PR)