More vaccinations planned for tenants at Hamilton apartments with COVID-19 outbreaks: public health

Tenants at Rebecca Towers are asking public health to do on-site COVID-19 vaccinations for residents who are afraid to leave their apartments. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Tenants at Rebecca Towers say Hamilton public health needs to bring vaccines directly to residents who are at risk amid a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected more than 100 people and left one person dead.

Public health has opened up 150 vaccination spots at FirstOntario Centre this weekend for those living at Rebecca Towers, which is reporting 109 infections to date.

Read more: Hamilton reports 125 new COVID-19 cases, updates struggle with Rebecca Street outbreak

A spokesperson for Hamilton public health told Global News that 50 walk-in appointments have been made available at FirstOntario Centre from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for residents, and they are looking at adding more going forward.

“This is simply a starting point to assess uptake,” wrote communications officer James Berry in an email Friday. “We recognize how critical it is to offer (the) vaccine to residents.”

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The Rebecca Towers tenants’ committee is urging public health to have the vaccine administered at the building, saying many people are afraid to leave their apartments and risk being exposed to the virus.

“We are worried about the risk of transmission if a large number of residents are to leave from the building at the same time via the two narrow stairwells and one 4’x6’ elevator to travel together to First Ontario Centre and back,” the committee wrote in a media release on Thursday.

Tenants say the state of the building, which has only had one working elevator for the past five months, is contributing to their fears of being infected, along with hallways and stairwells they describe as “filthy and uncleaned” with poor ventilation.

“Ironically, the very act of leaving the building to get vaccinated could put us at greater risk of contracting coronavirus.”

Click to play video: 'Over 150 cases linked to COVID-19 outbreaks at 3 Hamilton apartments' Over 150 cases linked to COVID-19 outbreaks at 3 Hamilton apartments
Over 150 cases linked to COVID-19 outbreaks at 3 Hamilton apartments – May 11, 2021

Rhea Kumar, who is on the tenants’ committee, lives in a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of the 17-storey building.

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She’s recovering from COVID-19 after contracting it from her husband, who was exposed to the virus in the building.

“I am kind of slowly coming out of the trauma,” she told Global News.

Kumar said her worst fear came true when her four-month-old son Reyansh also became ill.

“I’ve been extra cautious. I know sometimes I’ve looked very stupid doing strange things just to protect us from the infection, and here we are — we still got infected. It was really a shock to us.”

Thankfully, Kumar and her family only experienced mild symptoms, but she said the experience has been a nightmare and the idea of leaving her apartment for any reason — including getting a vaccine — is frightening.

“We are even scared to do our laundry, forget about stepping out. We’re scared to even … go to the chute and trash things, we’re scared to even do that. So forget about anything else.”

Read more: COVID-19: Tenants of Hamilton high-rise say narrative of ‘socialization’ amid pandemic ‘false’

Public health said it will be administering vaccinations on-site for residents who are homebound, but the Rebecca Towers tenants’ committee is calling on the city to expand its definition of ‘homebound’ to include “anyone who does not feel safe leaving their unit to get vaccinated, for whatever reason.”

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“City staff and politicians have talked about the need to prioritize front-line workers, vulnerable people, poor people, racialized people, etc.,” the committee wrote in their statement. “So why not bring the vaccine to where working-class people live and work?”

Berry said public health representatives will be going door-to-door at Rebecca Towers on Friday to “identify any additional specific individual needs and barriers to vaccination to support those who may require on-site homebound appointments for medical reasons, including those who are in quarantine or isolation as a result of being a close contact to a positive COVID-19 case.”

The tenants’ committee has also been calling for postal code L8R to be made a COVID-19 hot spot so residents living in that neighbourhood can more easily access vaccine appointments.

“We are the working-class people who make the city run,” the committee wrote. “We live in small apartments in tall buildings with shared ventilation, disrepairs, crowding.”

“If city staff and politicians really cared about working-class people, they would do the minimum by bringing us the vaccine.”

Read more: COVID-19: Two new outbreaks, 47 cases tied to central Hamilton apartment buildings

L8R is also home to two other downtown Hamilton high rise apartment buildings with COVID-19 outbreaks, including one that has nearly doubled in size since Thursday.

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The Village Apartments on Queen Street North now has 65 cases of COVID-19 — up from 34 on Thursday — with 64 cases among residents and one in a staff member.

An outbreak at Wellington Place Apartments at Wellington and Cathcart streets has infected 22 residents.

Berry said public health will be offering walk-in vaccine appointments to residents in those buildings as well, but said planning is still underway for how that will work.

“Dates and times will be communicated to residents as details are finalized,” he wrote.

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