Of the 32 COVID-19 outbreaks in the Edmonton zone, more than half of them are at long-term care homes or supportive living facilities.
Edmonton General Continuing Care, run by Covenant Health, is one of the newest long-term care homes grappling with the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As of Friday, 25 residents and six staff have tested positive and one resident is dead.
“If infection gets into a long-term care home, you can be looking at over 10 per cent mortality in that group in people who otherwise had a reasonable quality of life and should have lived longer,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert from the University of Alberta.
She said the issue of keeping vulnerable people safe is a complicated one.
“I’ve not seen any examples worldwide of being able to keep seniors (or) people in long-term care — people with lots of risk factors — safe if there’s spread in the community, because the virus is simply too sneaky.”
Saxinger advocated for policies aimed at trying to limit the spread.
“Make sure people who are working with the elderly have sick leave that is supported and encouraged,” she said.
Saxinger added that the care homes need to be supported by everyone else in the community doing their part.
“The best defence against that is actually to bring community transmission down,” she said.
Zachary Penner, the executive director of communications for Shepherd’s Care, echoed that sentiment.
“When the population increases, the number of cases inevitably… will find its way into the care homes and the hospitals and the schools and the hospices.”
Good Shepherd’s Millwoods Long Term Care Centre has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak for the last month. More than 100 people there tested positive.
Sixty-one patients — all on the third floor — as well as 42 staff were infected. Forty-one of them have recovered to date, while eight have died. Only 10 residents on the floor have remained healthy during the outbreak.
“We did our contact tracing and we believe that it was brought into our facility by a visitor in about mid-September,” Penner said.
He explained that at the end of July, the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw relaxed rules around visitation in care homes.
The first patient in Millwoods to test positive had nine visitors over a two-week span before becoming ill. Penner believes an asymptomatic visitor passed the screening and broke the distancing or masking rules when alone with their loved one, infecting them.
Now, Shepherd’s Care has to restrict unsupervised visits once again.
“We have made the decision that the cases are getting far too out of hand in Edmonton and it’s getting too risky to permit any of those,” Penner said.
Instead, at least once a week, residents at Shepherd’s Care facilities are allowed to meet their family at a distance, wearing marks in the common areas. Staff will supervise to ensure proper precautions are followed.
Patients in isolation will get virtual visits once a week.
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“So just because you may get tired of this and feel like you don’t want to deal with the masking and the distancing, you’re not just doing it for yourself,” Penner said. “You’re doing it for the most vulnerable people in our population.”