Ontario’s Largest COVID-19 Outbreak Hits Bobcaygeon Nursing Home

COVID-19

Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon is reporting Ontario's largest outbreak of COVID-19, 20 residents have died and almost half its staff are showing symptoms. Its medical director expects more patients will succumb to the respiratory illness. Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

Ontario’s largest outbreak of COVID-19 has been reported in a 65-bed nursing home in Bobcaygeon, 150 kilometres north of Toronto, where 20 residents have died and 24 staff members had already tested positive as of Monday, 10 more tests were pending.

On Monday, Pinecrest Nursing Home medical director Dr. Michelle Snarr predicted there would be more deaths.

“We get more heartbreaking news all the time,” she said in an interview. “There may have been more by now. Several were close to death last night.”

By Tuesday morning three more residents had died and by Friday morning, a total of 20 deaths among residents had been reported.

On Saturday, Pinecrest volunteer and visitor Jean Pollock, 82, also died, at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, Ont. Her husband is a resident there, and she started feeling sick on March 17. Her daughter, Pam Smith, was driving to Bobcaygeon from Vancouver when her mother died. Smith told CBC the two talked by phone just before Pollock’s death.

“She said, ‘I’m going downhill quick.’ So I told her that I loved her,” Smith said. “She was pretty afraid. She was really struggling.”

By Monday, Ontario was reporting 1,355 cases of COVID-19 and 23 deaths, nine of those at Pinecrest.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit said the outbreak was the largest in the province.

It started on March 20 when three residents tested positive for COVID-19, and 23 others were sick with a respiratory illness. The next day, the Globe and Mail reported, Snarr sent an email to family members of Pinecrest residents, about the gravity of the situation.

“It’s possible that you may face the decision to send your loved one to the hospital, especially if they develop pneumonia and have trouble breathing, This would raise the question of going on a ventilator.” Snarr wrote. “A frail nursing-home patient who is put on a ventilator is quite likely to suffer a great deal, and may not survive … I am asking all of you to think hard about what would be in the best interest of your loved ones.”

The first death attributed to the virus happened on Tuesday, March 24, the second on Wednesday, March 25, and by Sunday another seven had died.

No one knows how residents and staff were infected. .

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. In response, Ontario’s Ministry of Health recommended that long-term care facilities and retirement homes screen visitors for symptoms and travel history in order to help prevent potential exposures. By March 14, the ministry was advising against any non-essential visitors.

And this Monday the province issued a new directive for LTC homes to test everyone with symptoms when experiencing an outbreak, defined as just one lab-confirmed positive test of a resident or staff member. Long-term care workers are already one of the groups prioritized for COVID-19 testing in Ontario.

Bobcaygeon is a small community of about 3,500 and a popular destination for cottagers. On Sunday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam urged urban dwellers to avoid trips to cottage country since they are “less equipped” to manage a surge of need for health care being presented by COVID-19.

Pinecrest is not the first nursing home in Canada to experience an outbreak. British Columbia recorded the country’s first death from COVID-19 on March 10 at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. Another 10 residents have since died and 42 others, along with 19 staff, have tested positive. B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered long-term care staff to work at just one facility after a case in another nursing home was linked to a Lynn Valley employee.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star reports the Ontario Ministry of Long-term Care has changed the rules about who can work in long-term care homes in an effort to staunch the flow of staff who are off work and in self-isolation. The order-in-council allows long-term care homes to bring in untrained workers as well as volunteers in an effort to cope with the increased workload.

But a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly told The Star it was going to be a disaster.

“We are seeing the high levels of COVID in long-term care, and what are we doing? We are sending the most untrained people to these homes,” said Jane Meadus.

“First of all, infection control is going to be very scary if people are not properly trained. But these are people with choking hazards, complex (skin) wound needs and if staff don’t have the proper training, it’s also going to be a problem with the ongoing care.”

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