Nearly half of known COVID-19 deaths in Canada linked to long-term care homes: Tam

OTTAWA — With nearly half of the COVID-19 deaths in Canada linked to outbreaks in long-term care homes, the federal government is urging these facilities to heed the latest national guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19 among their vulnerable residents.

“Of the cases where we have the data on whether someone was in a long-term care facility or seniors residence, we know that close to half of the deaths that we’re tracking are linked to long-term care facilities,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Monday.

“But that ratio is actually different in different provinces,” she said, warning that “these deaths will continue to increase, even as the epidemic growth rate slows down.”

“We need to protect our seniors, so stay home and save lives,” Tam said.

Joining the daily ministerial update on the novel coronavirus, Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said that heeding the newly-released advice is “critical” in slowing the pandemic’s spread within seniors’ homes, as they are at a high risk.

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Schulte said the new guidelines aren’t meant to say the workers in these facilities are not doing enough, but there is “no doubt” the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed holes where improvements are needed.

“We didn’t have a playbook,” she said about how to handle care for seniors in relation to this novel coronavirus. 

As of when the news conference ended, the total number of deaths in Canada was 767, with the number of confirmed cases at 25,546.

The number of deaths in the country has already surpassed Health Canada’s projections for between 500 and 700 deaths in Canada by the next week.  

“Residents of long-term care homes are vulnerable to infections due to their communal living spaces, shared healthcare providers, exposure to external visitors, and transfers from other healthcare facilities,” she said.

With both police and public health investigations underway into the deaths of 31 elderly residents at a long-term care home in Dorval, Que., Quebec Premier Francois Legault— who has said he feels there was “negligence” at play in the privately-run facility— spoke Monday about next steps.

Legault said that inspections are being conducted at both private and public seniors’ residences across the province.

In Ontario, where the number of seniors who have died after contracting the novel coronavirus climbed in a number of these facilities—including 28 deaths at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon—Premier Doug Ford said it’s a scary and upsetting time for everyone.

“Everyone has a grandparent or a friend or a family member somewhere that knows someone in long-term care. I speak from experience,” Ford said, mentioning his mother in law is in a long-term care home and how his wife wishes she could don a hazmat suit and go inside to help her.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of families in the same position… It’s heart-wrenching but we have to rely on our medical professionals, our caregivers in there,” Ford said.

NEW GUIDELINES 

On Saturday, federal health officials released new interim infection prevention and control guidance for long-term care homes nationwide, saying the “heartbreaking events” have shown the need for rigorous visitor and resident care protocols and precautions. The guidance can also be applied to retirement residences, and other seniors’ facilities. 

Among the key recommendations:

  • Restricting visitors and volunteers;
  • Screenings before shift for staff and before any essential visitor enters;
  • Prohibiting staff with symptoms from coming to work;
  • Wearing masks, and other personal protective equipment;
  • Limiting employees to working in a single facility; and
  • Cancelling any non-essential outings and maintaining physical distance during meals.

The guidelines were drafted in consultation with the provinces, territories, and based on the experience in other countries. Tam said she expects the guidance to continue to evolve over the course of the pandemic.

Citing the varied landscape at private and public long-term care homes across the country, Tam said one of the lessons to be learned is improvements to infection prevention and control are needed in these facilities.

“I think we will all learn as a country, and as a society I think, about how we protect seniors and residences… And that we have to reduce the introduction of such outbreaks into those facilities and that will absolutely will have to be a priority as this epidemic evolves as well,” she said.  

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