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Mandatory vaccines a ‘game-changer’ at COVID-19-plagued Kelowna care home, doctor says

A sign outside the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, B.C., has said no visitors are allowed, since a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Aug. 4, 2021. Global News

Incoming mandatory vaccines at a Kelowna, B.C., long-term care home ravaged by COVID-19 will be a “game-changer,” says a doctor with the Interior Health Authority (IHA) overseeing the outbreak.

Medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema said COVID-19 outbreaks caused by unvaccinated care home staff continue to be a challenge in the B.C. Interior.

“Unvaccinated individuals are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 and the Delta variant is much more transmissible, so ensuring that all individuals that are coming into any long-term care facility and spending a long time in the facility, like staff, will be a game-changer in how we do prevention of outbreaks in long-term care,” Mema told Global News.

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Cottonwoods Care Centre on Aug. 4.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccines now mandatory for all B.C. long-term and assisted living staff

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Since then, 41 residents and 11 staff members have contracted the virus. Six residents have died and there are 11 active cases at the facility.

New cases were detected over the weekend, stretching out the duration of the outbreak for the foreseeable future.

“Having new cases recently is a concern because that will push the outbreak further into the end of October or November,” Mema said.

Click to play video: 'IHA monitoring staff vaccinations at Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna' IHA monitoring staff vaccinations at Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna
IHA monitoring staff vaccinations at Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna – Mar 12, 2021

The two-month-long outbreak is having real consequences on the elderly residents who call Cottonwoods home, as well as their families.

Lindsay Knitter told Global News she hasn’t seen her 89-year-old grandma in person since the outbreak was first declared. No visitors are allowed.

“It is lovely to see her at the window but it is heartbreaking, because there’s unfortunately not that human connection,” Knitter said.

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Read more: Calls are growing for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines in health workers. Here’s what we know

“It is very challenging because grandma is in her last chapter and she has deteriorated significantly since the pandemic and we haven’t been able to see her as much.”

Knitter said every few weeks she hopes she will be able to visit her loved one, but hopes are quickly dashed as new cases arise.

“It’s discouraging and completely out of our control,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Kelowna family connects with great grandmother while practicing social distancing' Coronavirus: Kelowna family connects with great grandmother while practicing social distancing
Coronavirus: Kelowna family connects with great grandmother while practicing social distancing – Apr 6, 2020

“Some days you’re incredibly emotional and some days are a little easier.”

Mema said most care home residents are fully vaccinated but would not say how many long-term care staff are fully immunized.

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She suggested the vaccination rate was higher among staff than the general population, meaning up to 10 per cent of staff may not be fully vaccinated.

“It’s not that many staff that are not fully vaccinated, but it is not 100 per cent compliance, and it is going to be when the order kicks in,” Mema said.

Read more: B.C. not ruling out mandatory COVID-19 immunization for long-term care workers

On Aug. 12, health officials announced the province was making it mandatory for all health-care workers in care homes to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 12, 2021.

“We have now seen with the transmission of the new variants that we need extra protection in this highly risky situation, even when resident immunization is high, as it is across the board in facilities in this province,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

“We have seen transmission from unvaccinated staff and it reinforces the need for protection from all people in long-term care.”

Click to play video: 'Unvaccinated staff being blamed for COVID-19 outbreaks at Kelowna care homes' Unvaccinated staff being blamed for COVID-19 outbreaks at Kelowna care homes
Unvaccinated staff being blamed for COVID-19 outbreaks at Kelowna care homes – Aug 25, 2021

Mema said Cottonwoods has been a particularly challenging facility to keep the virus at bay, due to the aging structure, shared rooms and the population of dementia patients.

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“The layout of Cottonwoods is one of those facilities that was built many years ago so there isn’t a separation between units that would allow us to separate completely,” she said.

She added that despite high vaccination rates among residents, breakthrough cases are still occurring.

Read more: Ontario makes COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for long-term care workers by Nov. 15

“We do see some cases among individuals who are fully vaccinated, but that disease is mild, but we have to count that case as a case and that’s why we have these outbreaks going on for a long time,” Mema said.

There are four other ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at care facilities in the B.C. Interior.

As of Friday, The Hamlets at Westsyde long-term care in Kamloops had six cases, Joseph Creek Village long-term care in Cranbrook had 15 cases and two deaths, Overlander Long-Term Care in Kamloops had 22 cases with two deaths and Village by the Station long-term care in Penticton had 22 cases, with one death connected to the outbreak.

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