Long-term care homes once again emerge as COVID-19 hotspots
TORONTO -- Seniors in nursing homes are once again bearing the brunt of the pandemic, despite vows from federal and provincial governments to make improvements aimed at preventing the second wave from ravaging long-term care facilities.
June McNeily was just a week shy of turning 90 when earlier this month the beloved resident of an Ottawa long-term care home became a victim of the second wave of COVID-19.
McNeily is one of more than two dozen residents to have died from the virus while at the home.
The second wave has been responsible for dozens of deaths of those living in long-term care, a disturbing echo of the first wave of the pandemic back in the spring, despite officials promising to better protect residents this time around.
McNeily’s granddaughter told CTV News that those promises “were empty.”
“There was no follow through,” she said.
In B.C., a home in Abbotsford recorded five resident deaths in a single day this week. Meanwhile in Saskatchewan, at least nine outbreaks have been declared in care homes in the last two weeks.
In Ontario, the province saw 71 deaths within care homes over the course of a single week in early November.
Despite it all, Ottawa still has no public database keeping track of how badly long-term care homes are being hit on a national scale.
That’s left people like freelance journalist Nora Loreto to try and tally up the national numbers on their own.
"We are on track to be much worse than the first wave in terms of infections,” Loreto said. “There's certainly more facilities that are affected by outbreaks and those numbers grow every day by quite a lot."
According to Loreto, a whopping 77 per cent of COVID-19 deaths can be traced to long-term care and senior homes.
In response, provinces have brought in measures to try and prevent outbreaks, such as providing better protective gear to caregivers. In September, the Ontario government pledged more than $500 million for PPE for staff, as well as renovations.
"We have been making significant investments into the protection of people in long-term care, building that iron ring around them,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a press conference in early November.
But staff shortages remain a big concern.
"The staffing is still a nightmare,” said Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care researcher. “We have over-burdened, completely burnt out workers.”
Critics say the province didn’t do enough to prepare over the summer, when cases were lower.
Stamatopoulos says part of the problem is that some homes still have three-to-four person ward rooms with shared bathrooms, making physical distancing and isolation an issue. More safeguards are needed in facilities, she says, because she believes trying to keep the virus out completely is impossible.
“The workers live in the communities, so if the workers are living in communities with rising rates of COVID, invariably, it will get into the facility,” Stamatopoulos said. “That is what has happened in both waves.”
Still some are hoping that the deployment of more rapid testing could help to protect long-term care homes.
The provincial government also announced this month that workers who provide direct care would be required to be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis, instead of every two weeks. This increase in testing comes after an announcement that the province had received 98,000 new Abbott ID rapid tests.