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

Tanya Finley will run as the Nelson-Creston candidate for the BC Liberals in the upcoming election. Photo submitted
Tanya Finley will run as the Nelson-Creston candidate for the BC Liberals in the upcoming election. Photo submitted
Election 2020: Tanya Finley

The second of four interviews with the Nelson-Creston candidates

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Granite Pointe Golf Club will receive a partial tax exemption this year from the City of Nelson. It is one of many non-profits to be granted full or partial exemptions for 2021. File photo
Nelson’s tax exemptions for non-profits exceed $55,000 for 2021

Groups that own property are eligible for exemptions if their work benefits the community

Nicole Charlwood represents the Green Party in the campaign for Nelson-Creston. Photo submitted
Nicole Charlwood represents the Green Party in the campaign for Nelson-Creston. Photo submitted
Election 2020: Nicole Charlwood

The first of four interviews with the Nelson-Creston candidates

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

Working smoothly together on May 11, 2020, health minister Adrian Dix, B.C. Liberal health critic Norm Letnick, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and sign language interpreter Nigel Howard. (B.C. government video)
COVID-19 co-operation a casualty of B.C.’s pandemic election

NDP’s Horgan weaponizes senior care, B.C. Liberal Wilkinson calls for ‘wartime economy’

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Investigators work at the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. - Image credit: Observer file photo.
Sex workers allegedly called to farm of Okanagan man convicted of assault, RCMP investigating

Curtis Sagmoen, convicted in relation to assault of sex trade workers, is prohibited from soliciting escorts

(Black Press Media files)
Early voters more likely to favour NDP, but overall B.C. election is tightening: poll

According to Elections BC, 383,477 people cast a ballot during advanced voting days

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

Most Read