Limiting community spread key to preventing further COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities

N.S. long-term care homes dealing with spike in COVID-19 cases
Long-term care facilities are one of the major issues driving COVID-19 in Nova Scotia. Northwood's Halifax campus has the most with 31, but Dr. Robert Strang says as we learn more about the disease, there are some positives as well. Alicia Draus reports.

Several long-term care facilities across Nova Scotia are reporting positive cases of COVID-19 among both staff and residents.

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health says long-term care facilities are one of the two major issues when it comes to the spread of the virus.

READ MORE: 38 residents test positive for cornavirus at Northwood nursing home in Halifax

“The most worrisome [long-term care facility] right now is Northwood, but we’re working close to support that community as well,” said Strang.
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On Wednesday, Halifax’s Northwood Manor reported 38 cases of COVID-19 among residents, in addition to 21 positive cases among staff and home-care workers.

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With long-term care residents being among the most at-risk population for COVID-19, Strang calls the outbreak “concerning” but he says each day they are continuing to learn more about the virus and there is some good news from the Northwood outbreak.

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“What we’re seeing is even seniors, frail elderly in a long term care facility, of those who have tested positive, many are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.”

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As of Wednesday morning, only three cases at Northwood were considered to be more serious, but all were being taken care of at the facility.

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“It’s encouraging,” said Strang.

To further prevent the spread long-term care facilities are continuing to listen to health care officials and have implemented a number of safety measures including not allowing visitors, requiring staff who are sick to stay home, having workers wear face-masks and in some cases testing vitals of staff daily to ensure no one has a fever.

But Strang says despite an abundance of caution there will always be continued risk of health care workers bringing the virus into a long-term care facility due to community spread.

“There’s no guarantee that one of them may not be infected and be asymptomatic and come into a facility,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Nova Scotia-developed ventilator built in under three weeks, awaits approval

Strang says the blame is not on health care workers, as they are doing important and essential work under challenging circumstances and the onus is on everyone to do their part to help protect vulnerable populations.

“One of the key ways we can protect our vulnerable seniors in long term care facilities is by minimizing disease transmission in communities, which minimizes the possibility of a health care in that community unknowingly being infected and then going to work,’ said Strang.

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

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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.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.