Long-term care facilities are now at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nova Scotia, with concerns that seniors living at these facilities are among those most at risk for the virus.
According to the province, as of April 15, there were seven licensed long-term care homes in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 42 residents and 23 staff.
The largest outbreak is at Northwood Manor in Halifax, which announced late on Thursday that it had 42 confirmed COVID-19 cases among residents, four more than it did on Wednesday.
But one of the first long-term care facilities to see a positive case of the virus among staff and residents has managed to limit the spread.
At the end of March, Magnolia Community Care in Enfield, N.S., announced a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
The virus then spread to two additional staff members and two residents.
The small outbreak put a strain on the facility’s resources, as it forced two-thirds of staff members to self-isolate as a precaution.
“It was definitely a challenge and our administrators were working many, many hours,” said Tracey Tulloch, a spokesperson for Rosecrest, which operates Magnolia Community Care.
To manage the workload with such a reduction in staff, the facility received support from the Victoria Order of Nurses (VON) and the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
The two residents who tested positive are now considered to be recovered, and while the three staff members who tested positive are still waiting for the negative tests, all other staff have since returned to work.
The facility has also now hired additional staff and changed the way they operate to better manage if another case of COVID-19 is confirmed.
“We’re cohorting our staff whenever possible,” explained Tulloch.
“That way there is not as much contact between staff and certain residents, and so it’s easier to trace who’s had contact with who, so that if there is another positive, then we’re able to quickly isolate, but not isolate as many as we had in the previous one.”
According to Northwood’s website, 26 staff had tested positive at the Halifax campus as of Thursday evening. That’s five more staff than it had reported on Wednesday.
The facility has already hired over 36 additional staff through the Pandemic Relief recruitment, and have started the hiring process for 60 others. The facility is recruiting from industries impacted by unemployment including daycares, restaurants and airports.
Dr. Strang encouraged facilities to think creatively in finding ways to cope, and to seek out additional staff, but says the province is able to help long-term facilities dealing with any staffing shortages due to the pandemic.
“So not responding facility by facility, but having more of a health system approach,” said Strang.
“So the facility’s not left on their own, the rest of the continuing care sector, and if necessary the rest of the health system is there to help them with their staffing issues.
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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