“It’s terrifying to everybody,” said the resident of Pioneer Village in Regina, who told Global News she had requested special permission to come outdoors to do a masked and distanced interview on Wednesday.
Pioneer Village takes COVID-19 and the protocols necessary to mitigate it very seriously, she explained, because if the spread gets out of control, the outcomes are devastating.
Statistics provided by Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health show that of the 155 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the province in 2020, 65 were in care home settings, with about two-thirds linked to a single facility: Parkside Extendicare.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) says that as of Tuesday afternoon, 41 Parkside residents have died.
As the coronavirus ravaged Parkside Exendicare (a privately-run facility) in December, the SHA stepped in to co-manage it. Around the same time, Parkside residents who initially tested negative, but then positive, were transferred to Pioneer Village.
“It seems surreal to me,” said Girard, noting the care-homes lockdown adds an extra layer of stress. “It’s like I’m a caged animal and I can’t get out.”
To date, she said she’s had five COVID-19 tests. Each time, waiting for the negative results has been nerve-wracking, she continued, especially on the one occasion when she was exhibiting symptoms.
“I was scared and anxious and I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “I didn’t want my grandsons growing up without a grandmother.”
The Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism says that the way the situation has been playing out is not surprising.
“It’s almost predictable,” the advocacy group’s president, Randy Dove, told Global News. “And the acceleration, I think, is also predictable. From what we know of the virus, once you get this in a confined space like that, it’s very hard to contain.”
Saskatchewan NDP health critic Vicki Mowat attributed the rapidness with which the situation has deteriorated to the state of long-term care in the province, citing “things like understaffing, concerns about quality of care and also crumbling infrastructure.”
When asked for reflection on the province’s response to the death toll that’s been associated with COVID-19 outbreaks in care home settings, Health Minister Paul Merriman said that the government continues to work with the facilities.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, noted that caseload in care home settings parallels what’s going on in the broader community.
In the fall, cases were climbing across the province.
The health ministry says between Oct. 14 and Dec. 30, 464 COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in care home residents and/or staff.
With vaccine shipments now coming into Saskatchewan, Shahab described the next two months as “a race against time” when it comes to vaccinating those who live and work in those settings.
It’s difficult to think about the people who didn’t get the shot in time, Cathy Girard said.
“I feel very sad for them and their families and I wish they could have had a vaccine before now,” she said.