A man using a cane is silhouetted as he enters Milan’s Central Station, Italy, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Public health officials are urging people take extra infection control steps around older Canadians most at risk of developing COVID-19 complications, with the death of a Vancouver senior providing fresh imperative for vigilance in long-term care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Luca Bruno

Officials weigh COVID-19 infection control against risk of isolation at nursing homes

Vancouver-area senior the first to die of COVID-19 in Canada

Public health officials are urging people take extra infection control steps around older Canadians most at risk of developing COVID-19 complications, with the death of a Vancouver senior providing fresh imperative for vigilance in long-term care facilities.

News that the man in his 80s had died over the weekend coincided with assurances by various provinces that the well-being of nursing home residents was paramount.

Ontario’s health minister announced ramped-up screening and testing procedures, while Nova Scotia outlined a two-week waiting period for any out-of-country traveller who wanted to visit a nursing home.

Laura Tamblyn Watts, policy director at the National Initiative for Care of the Elderly (NICE), welcomed additional precautions but was wary of restrictions that “can be just as damaging” to a population prone to social isolation.

“It is such a vulnerable population to many forms of illness but in particular this COVID-19,” acknowledged Tamblyn Watts.

“We will certainly see increased protocols, I think across the board, for long-term care. The challenge, however, is when you have older people who are at risk of social isolation — it’s very upsetting for them to be in isolation in many instances. And if you have people with cognitive impairment, they may not understand why no one is coming to visit them.”

Ontario’s health ministry said Monday it was introducing “active surveillance” in which staff, volunteers, visitors and residents who come and go would be screened for symptoms and asked about travel history.

In addition, any specimens sent for standard respiratory testing will automatically be tested for COVID-19, said a provincial memo to the long-term care homes sector.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams stressed the need for the general public to take precautions that include washing hands frequently to protect the most vulnerable residents.

“If people are casual about their travel protection, casual about their contact protection and are less than vigilant on staying home when they’re ill and that kind of thing, then we can put that population at risk,” he said.

“By being vigilant, by keeping at that, you can protect them.”

VIDEO: B.C. records first COVID-19 death in Canada as province hits 32 cases

Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, said Tuesday that she wanted assurances from the province that retirement homes would be held to the same guidelines.

“It is my understanding from the ministry that they meant this to be also for retirement homes and we have asked that to be in writing,” said Grinspun.

She also repeated her organization’s call for increased nursing-home staff, noting each facility typically has just one or two registered nurses, and three registered practical nurses.

“The rest — 75 per cent of our workforce in nursing homes — are personal support workers (and) as much as they try to do what they can do, they don’t have the same expertise and knowledge and training as RNs or RPNs. And then on top of that, we don’t have the right numbers in terms of each one of these categories of workers,” said Grinspun.

“Nursing homes are extremely strained as we speak, and have been for years and years and years.”

In Nova Scotia, the province’s chief medical officer of health drew attention to new national screening protocols for the novel coronavirus and stressed that those who travel out-of-country monitor themselves for two weeks.

Dr. Robert Strang also announced that nursing home visitors who have travelled outside the country in the last 14 days would not be allowed entry, a measure the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union doubted could be monitored or enforced.

“I wouldn’t see that as the role of the nursing staff,” says Janet Hazelton, who instead called for guidance on what to do if a resident contracts COVID-19.

“We don’t have the staff in long-term care that we have in acute care. We don’t have the cleaning staff… We have no security. So if security was more who they thought would police this, there is no in security long-term care.”

There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

In British Columbia, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says people should continue seeing their loved ones in nursing homes, but must take preventative measures.

“We want to have enhanced screening of visitors who are coming in and out of long-term care (homes) so if you are going to visit someone don’t go with a large group, go one by one. Only go to visit the person you are there to see. If you have any concerns about respiratory illnesses stay away.”

READ MORE: B.C. care providers say masks, medical supplies ‘drying up’ due to COVID-19 concerns

READ MORE: Thinking of travelling? Your insurance policy might not cover COVID-19

— With files from Allison Jones in Toronto, Keith Doucette in Halifax, and Camille Bains in Vancouver

Cassandra Szklarski , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Oak Bay Police Chief Const. Andy Brinton passes the torch this summer

Deputy Chief Ray Bernoties to take over position in September

Victoria Police see new trends in calls due to COVID-19

Police link jump in domestic, mental health calls to pandemic

VIDEO: Musician stays physically distant in courtyard show for Langford retirees

Bob Nelson found a way to continue to play for retirement community residents

COVID-19: Health care workers seek alternative housing options to prevent families from getting sick

Volunteers, residents and businesses step up to provide frontline workers with alternative housing

BC Parks Foundation organizes virtual picnic for the province

Join a B.C.-wide picnic online Saturday, March 28

Trudeau announces 75% wage subsidy for small businesses amid COVID-19

This is up from the previously announced 10 per cent wage subsidy

COVID-19: A message from the publisher

We will be making some changes to our print editions during these unprecedented times

World update, 9:30 p.m. March 27: Positive news in Korea as U.S. hits 100,000 cases

The United States now has the most coronavirus cases of any country in the world

VIDEO: Penguins roam empty halls of Vancouver Aquarium

COVID-19 has forced the Vancouver Aquarium to close access to guests – leaving room for its residents

COVID-19: Qualicum Beach youngster gets car parade for his sixth birthday

Friends get creative after party cancelled due to ongoing pandemic

Kids get back to learning in B.C., online

Ministry of Education rolls out new tool for school

Nanaimo RCMP ask for help locating 17-year-old girl believed to be with 36-year-old man

Mary Cyprich, missing since Thurday, might be in company of Force Forsythe

67 more B.C. COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Vancouver region

Positive tests found in Surrey, Langley long-term care facilities

‘Now is not the time to bag that peak’: BCSAR manager discourages risky outdoor adventures

Call volumes are not going down, even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists

Most Read