Study suggests size determines how COVID-19 affects Ontario retirement homes

A woman tries to speak to her mother through a window at Orchard Villa Care home, in Pickering, Ont. on Saturday, April 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

A McMaster University study suggests that retirement communities in Ontario that offer a wide variety of services are the homes most likely to be impacted by the coronavirus.

Using data from the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA) and the Ministry of Health, researchers say the province’s retirement communities most likely to be affected by the virus are those with high resident populations, with connections to a nursing home, owned by large corporations, and that offer many on-site services.

Read more: Ontario reports 1,940 new coronavirus cases, 23 deaths

“Retirement homes have been lumped in with nursing homes, but there are true differences with how they’re doing with the pandemic,” said study lead Andrew Costa, associate professor of the department of health research methods, evidence and impact at McMaster.

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The study analyzed data between March 1 and Sept. 24 and showed that only 10 per cent of COVID-19 infections among the 92 per cent of resident and staff infections in the province’s facilities occurred in retirement homes.

In Ontario, there are 770 retirement homes with almost 56,500 residents. During the time of the study, there were 172 outbreaks in homes involving 1,045 people and 548 staff members.

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Fifty-one retirement homes had one or more of the 215 resident deaths between March and September. In the second wave, deaths of retirement home residents accounted for 287, or 8.2 per cent, of the 3,505 deaths in Ontario by mid-November.

Read more: McMaster-led study aims to protect older Canadians from severe outcomes of COVID-19

As of Dec. 14, Ontario’s long-term care homes accounted for 9,358 of the province’s COVID-19 cases in residents and 3,678 of staff cases. There have been 2,400 resident deaths and eight among workers since the pandemic began, according to the province.

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“Retirement homes with more than 100 residents had more than a five-fold increase in the risk of outbreak,” said Costa. “As visitors were severely restricted at that time, it’s probably the staff and care providers seeded the infection in the homes.”

Andrew Costa, associate professor of the department of health research was the lead for a McMaster University study that shows there are “true differences” with how COVID-19 has affected retirement homes versus long-term care homes. McMaster University


The seven-month survey did not account for changes made in infection prevention and control, testing shortages, or changing provincial policies during March and September.

The research also did not delve into why cases were higher in ethnoculturally dense neighbourhoods but suggests “filial piety” – the tradition of taking care of one’s parents – may have a part to play in the disparity.