Health officials in Durham region are reporting a COVID-19-related death at a long-term care home in Oshawa, Ont. — one of two such deaths involving seniors in the province on Tuesday.
A woman in her 90s, who resided at Hillsdale Terraces, died in hospital on Monday, according to the Durham Region Health Department. The woman had recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Five residents at Hillsdale Terraces, including the woman who died, have tested positive for the virus. About 15 to 18 additional residents have flu-like symptoms, according to Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham Region’s medical officer of health.
In the Hamilton area, an 80-year-old woman who lived at Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek died on Tuesday in what officials are calling a COVID-19-related death. The number of people who have died from the virus in Ontario stands at eight as of Tuesday afternoon.
Two long-term care home residents in Toronto, residents of the St. Clair O’Connor Community Inc., have also tested positive for the virus, but they are not severely ill and not in hospital.
In a news release on Tuesday, the Durham Region Health Department said the woman in her 90s who died was transferred from Hillsdale Terraces, 600 Oshawa Blvd. N., to Lakeridge Health Oshawa.
Take social distancing ‘very seriously’
“We extend our sincere condolences to this woman’s family and our thoughts are with them during this very sad time,” Kyle said in the release.
“It is truly unfortunate that this woman’s tragic passing underscores the need for us to work together as a community to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” he added.
“We need everyone’s help to protect those most vulnerable in our community and encourage all area residents to take the practice of social and physical distancing very seriously and take action to protect yourself and others in our community.”
In an interview with CBC Toronto on Tuesday, Kyle said he is not certain if the residents who have flu-like symptoms have been tested for the virus.
“The landscape is changing and changing as we speak,” Kyle said.
“If there are more than four or five in a particular unit who have flu-like illness, then there is no other reason to submit samples to the Public Health Ontario lab. It’s assumed that the other cases in that unit have or are likely to have COVID-19,” he said.
Kyle said outbreaks of respiratory illness in long-term care homes are not uncommon and there are well-established procedures to limit spread when they do occur. These include stopping of visits and infection prevention and control measures.
Kyle added he understands that family members of long-term care home residents experience fear and panic when they cannot visit in the midst of an outbreak.
“We do need to take COVID-19 seriously,” he added. “People should take this very seriously, particularly if they are advised to isolate at home.”
Residents in East York care facility in ‘home isolation’
At the St. Clair O’Connor Community Inc. long term care home, located on St. Clair Avenue East near O’Connor Drive, Toronto Public Health has ordered all residents to shelter-in-place in their rooms.
CEO Mary Hoare said in a letter to family members that residents are receiving tray service in their rooms.
“We are taking immediate steps to reduce the chance of transmission and keep our residents and staff safe and healthy,” she said in a letter.
Staff members have been told to use protective gear, even with residents who are presenting symptoms. Residents are being monitored for symptoms twice a day.
“All residents in the long-term care home have been placed on home isolation until they declare the outbreak over,” Hoare told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.
Ontario gives temporary new powers to care homes
Meanwhile, the Ontario government announced on Tuesday that it is temporarily changing certain protocols in long-term care homes to ensure that the facilities “will be able to respond to, prevent and alleviate an outbreak of COVID-19.”
Under Ontario’s emergency declaration, long-term cares will be able to:
- Redeploy staff within different locations in (or between) facilities of the health service provider.
- Change the assignment of work, including assigning non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to perform bargaining unit work.
- Change the scheduling of work or shift assignments.
- Defer or cancel vacations, absences or other leaves, regardless of whether such vacations, absences or leaves are established by statute, regulation, agreement or otherwise.
- Employ extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors, including for the purpose of performing bargaining unit work.
- Use volunteers to perform work, including to perform bargaining unit work.
- Provide appropriate training or education as needed to staff and volunteers to achieve the purposes of a redeployment plan.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has also issued a directive that restricts long-term care home residents from leaving their facility for short visits with family and friends.
“In doing so, the province is ensuring residents do not inadvertently contract COVID-19 while out of the home and spread the virus upon their return. Instead, residents who want to go outside will be able to remain on the home’s property and maintain safe social distancing from any family and friends who visit them,” the Ontario health ministry said in a news release on Tuesday.
Additionally, the province said it will increase the number of long-term care beds available, so that individual facilities can provide isolation rooms for patients if needed.
The ministry has directed long-term care homes to restrict non-essential visits and actively screen essential visitors, staff, students, volunteers, residents moving into a long-term care home and residents returning to a long-term care home.
Also, when long-term care homes submit samples for standard respiratory testing, those samples are also being tested for COVID-19 to ensure the province identifies potentially unknown cases.