Despite being confined to their rooms and stepped-up infection controls, residents of long-term care homes grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks continue to catch the deadly virus — often due to it hitching a ride with unsuspecting staff.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said many large-scale care home outbreaks are due to breaches in personal protective equipment or issues in following public health advice.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

Despite being confined to their rooms and stepped-up infection controls, residents of long-term care homes grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks continue to catch the deadly virus — often due to it hitching a ride with unsuspecting staff.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said many large-scale care home outbreaks are due to breaches in personal protective equipment or issues in following public health advice.

"We still have a few hundred cases being generated every day, our test positivity is still at 13.5 per cent; so there are individuals who may be asymptomatic and don’t realize that they are carrying the virus and go to work," Atwal said Wednesday during a media briefing.

"There are (PPE) protocols in place in all the care homes, as well. On investigation, in a lot of these instances, there seems to may be a breach in some of the PPE protocols, which introduces that virus into the facility."

Currently, 31 of 39 long-term care facilities in Winnipeg have ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, Charleswood Care Centre had 121 cases, including 84 residents, and 27 deaths; Holy Family Home had 153 cases, including 111 residents, and 19 deaths; Park Manor reported 102 cases, including 62 residents, and 19 deaths.

"Ongoing work is being done with public health and with all the stakeholders to ensure that we mitigate that risk as much as possible," Atwal said.

"We want to get in there and make sure that we’re working with the care homes, and all the institutions, to make sure that people are doing what they need to do from an infection prevention and control standpoint, and are adhering."

Sharon Wilms, chief executive officer and director of care at Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, said the novel coronavirus "silently crept" into the century-old centre.

What is a personal protective equipment breach?

Click to Expand

Examples of PPE breaches include improper doffing (removal), improper hand hygiene, or issues such as touching the face mask or eye protection while wearing and not cleaning hands, as well incorrectly wearing a mask, forgetting eye protection, or careless disposal.

— source: Shared Health

"It is suspected that the current outbreak can be traced to an asymptomatic staff member who, when tested as a matter of contact tracing, tested positive," Wilms said, noting an outbreak was declared Dec. 6.

"This staff member continues to be asymptomatic, but the virus was in the building and with residents living in shared rooms, with shared washrooms, the flame was lit for the infection to take hold and spread."

According to Wilms, the home has 44 cases (12 staff, 32 residents) and five deaths, less than two weeks after the first case was discovered.

Wilms said the current facility was built in the 1960s to "hospital standards," with 72 residents sharing rooms and bathrooms. For years, its board of directors had been in discussion with the province about a new building, but talks were paused when the PCs formed government in 2016.

"Our home is truly the most at risk in Manitoba to any type of outbreak because of having the highest number of shared rooms in the province," Wilms said.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority declined Wednesday to comment on the rates of infection among long-term care residents. A spokesman deferred to an update published Tuesday to its website.

WRHA clinical leads are supervising 12 personal care homes. Meanwhile, the Canadian Red Cross epidemic prevention and control team is at Charleswood, which is owned and operated by Ontario-based Revera Inc.

At Charleswood, one case was detected Nov. 24; by Dec. 15, the outbreak grew to 121 cases.

As of Tuesday, at least 137 personal care home staff in Winnipeg had active infections of COVID-19, with more sick and awaiting test results or unable to work due to self-isolation.

Previously, Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said officials are considering surveillance and asymptomatic testing in vulnerable settings, such as personal care homes, but nothing has been decided.

Trust issues

A new poll by Probe Research shows more than half of Manitobans do not trust for-profit, private long-term care operators to provide quality care for seniors and the chronically ill.

A new poll by Probe Research shows more than half of Manitobans do not trust for-profit, private long-term care operators to provide quality care for seniors and the chronically ill.

The poll was commissioned by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Manitoba and surveyed 1,000 adults living in Manitoba between Nov. 24 and Dec. 4. The survey is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time.

Poll respondents also said they generally favour the takeover of “at least some” private long-term care homes in the province. One-third of respondents said the government or non-profit groups should take over all private care homes in Manitoba.

According to the survey, 64 per cent of respondents said they strongly support increasing staffing levels at long-term care homes, even if that means additional spending by government. Thirty per cent said they somewhat support increased staffing levels.

“CUPE has been calling for increased staffing levels in long-term care homes for years,” CUPE Manitoba president Abe Araya said in a statement. “Manitobans understand the critical need to legislate minimum staffing levels so we can get our seniors the care and attention they deserve, now and post-COVID-19.”

To suggest outbreaks in care homes are caused by PPE breaches ignores serious challenges health-care workers have navigated through the pandemic, Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said.

"Care homes across the province have severe short-staffing and workload issues that are compounded by the additional demands of managing an outbreak situation," Jackson said. "They have been working incredibly long and difficult hours for many months now. In many cases, they are doing so with inadequate or even expired PPE.

"With such a high number of outbreaks in the province, many of which have persisted for months on end, it’s clear that there is a much larger problem than simple PPE breaches."

A spokesman for Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Lynn Stevenson — the former associate deputy minister in the B.C. Ministry of Health hired to investigate the outbreak at Maples care home — is expected to submit a preliminary report this week.

The outbreak at Maples, operated by Revera, is the biggest in the province, topping out at 228 total cases, with 157 resident infections and 52 deaths. According to Revera, there were no active infections among residents, as of Dec. 10.

Last month, Friesen said the preliminary findings by Stevenson would inform immediate action to be taken at Maples and to anticipate issues in the provincial care home system.

— with files from Kevin Rollason

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

   Read full biography