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More mask use needed in Nova Scotia long-term care homes amid coronavirus pandemic: advocate

A 3M mask, which health-care workers are in dire need of, is shown in Mississauga, Ont., on Friday, April 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

When the Nova Scotia government closed long-term care homes to non-essential visitors, it was a move designed to protect vulnerable residents from contracting the novel coronavirus.

However, with four facilities in the province experiencing outbreaks among staff, residents or both, some think a step may have been missed in the province’s directives for long-term care operators.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia surpasses 400 coronavirus cases as another 34 identified

“We think that masks should be used wherever possible in long-term care homes,” said Bill VanGorder, senior spokesperson for the Maritime chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. “I think we will have learned from this for another time that masks are good protection and just good in terms of people feeling more comfortable.

“Hindsight’s always best,” he said. “It’s a little like the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is today.”

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VanGorder likened long-term care homes to cruise ships, responsible for some of the pandemic’s biggest outbreaks, due to the close proximity residents and staff have with one another.

READ MORE: 25 staff, residents in Nova Scotia long-term care homes test positive for coronavirus 

Although admittance protocols have been ramped up since the shutdown began, including temperature checks for anyone entering a facility, the process doesn’t eliminate the potential for an outbreak as asymptomatic people could gain entry and unknowingly infect the population, VanGorder claims.

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He says that severe situations like the COVID-19 pandemic can cause high anxiety and fear in elderly residents and that ensuring more stringent procedures are in place could go a long way in easing those worries, not to mention reducing the actual risk.

“We really think that masks are something that have to be really examined through this whole crisis and make sure next time we make the right decision and make it early,” he explained.

READ MORE: Safe but isolated — COVID-19 shutdown hard on Nova Scotia long-term care residents

VanGorder said the pandemic also underscores the need for Nova Scotia’s long-term care sector to be overhauled, indicating staffing shortages have kept the situation dire for some time.

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“We should’ve solved the staffing problem in the long-term care homes years ago and we still haven’t done it,” he said. “If we’re going to learn anything from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that we have to solve that problem.”

Global News made multiple attempts to contact the government to comment on whether masks and other personal protective equipment would be made mandatory in long-term care homes. But queries posed by Global News via the provincial COVID-19 inquiries line were not answered.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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