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COVID-19: Red Cross staffing lower than expected in Quebec long-term care homes

Soldiers walk away with the battalion flag following a ceremony marking the last day of military presence at the CHSLD Nazaire-Piche in Montreal, on June 17, 2020.
Soldiers walk away with the battalion flag following a ceremony marking the last day of military presence at the CHSLD Nazaire-Piche in Montreal, on June 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The number of temporary Canadian Red Cross-trained workers needed in Quebec’s long-term care homes is short of the 900 that were expected to replace departing Canadian military personnel.

On Wednesday, the humanitarian agency’s Quebec branch said it had 160 employees working in the province’s long-term care facilities at the beginning of the week, a number expected to rise to 235 by end of it.

But those figures fall well short of the 900 people Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised to replace more than 1,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces who’d been deployed during the spring to the homes hardest-hit by COVID-19. The soldiers began pulling out around the end of June.

Carole Du Sault, director of communications for the Red Cross Quebec branch, said the situation in the long-term care homes is stable. She said 957 people had applied to the agency for work in the senior facilities and 700 of them have been trained. But so far, the majority of the temporary workers are not needed.

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Quebec has reported a steady number of new COVID-19 infections in recent days, adding another 176 cases Wednesday, but no new deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. The primary spike has been seen in those between 15 and 34 years old, health officials said.

In Quebec City, regional health officials took over management of a private seniors’ residence earlier this week after 21 residents tested positive and three died. But a spokesman for Premier Legault said the situation in the majority of seniors’ living facilities are under control, for now.

“The federal government has assured us that staff are available and ready to be deployed in our (long-term care homes) as long as the pandemic is not resolved as a whole,” Ewan Sauves said. He added if things change, health officials won’t hesitate to call for more Red Cross resources.

The Red Cross will continue to deploy its trained workers until mid-September, when roughly 10,000 people currently under training to become orderlies will enter long-term care system.

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Quebec has seen small outbreaks outside facilities for seniors in recent days, including at a day camp in a Montreal suburb.

Officials in the Montérégie-Centre region, south of Montreal, said they had identified 27 infections among campers and staff at L’Atelier de Charlot l’escargot in Boucherville, Que. Regional health agency spokeswoman Martine Lesage said the outbreak was identified July 20, adding the camp’s administration agreed to close until Aug. 7.

The health authority ordered anyone who attended the camp between July 13-21 to self-isolate and reduce direct contact with family. It remains unclear how many people might be infected in total. “COVID-19 is a sneaky virus,” Lesage said in an email. “People who are infected, and therefore can transmit the virus, have few or even no symptoms, especially children.”

Quebec’s day camps association says about 15 of its members have seen a limited number of cases since they opened at the end of June. The affected camps are in western Quebec, the Eastern Townships and the Montérégie region.

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Anne-Frederique Morin, the association’s assistant director, said the camps have kept activities outdoors as much as possible, required physical distancing, grouped campers in “bubbles” of four-to-six kids and provided protective equipment for staff.

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“We have had no big outbreaks,” Morin said, noting the Boucherville camp is not part of her association. “When those measures are in place, we’re able to intervene and trace cases quickly.”

The Montérégie region has been one of the harder-hit areas in recent weeks, along with Montreal.

Quebec has reported a total of 5,670 COVID-19 deaths and 59,073 confirmed cases of the disease, of which 50,886 are considered recovered. The number of hospitalizations declined by three Wednesday to reach 190. Nine patients are in intensive care, an increase of one.