It is unclear why measures to put an “iron ring” around nursing homes have not prevented COVID-19 from causing “tragic” levels of death and disease, said the Minister of Health. long-term, Merrilee Fullerton.
“It has never been seen before. COVID-19 is a new type of virus, “said Fullerton on Thursday. “It is tragic and unprecedented. “
The admission came as the province revealed that three-quarters of the new coronavirus deaths officially reported on Thursday in Ontario were vulnerable residents of nursing homes.
At least 933 have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 530 nursing home workers to date, the highest toll of all workers in the health care sector.
Measures to protect nursing homes include screening of new admissions, staff and volunteers, and strict restrictions on visitors.
But on Thursday, the province added more measures. They include a temporary ban on transfers of hospital patients to long-term care, except in extraordinary circumstances, and only with a COVID-19 test followed by 14 days of isolation with droplets and contact precautions.
Residents of nursing homes in the same room as a patient with symptoms will now be tested, as will all residents of adjacent rooms, all staff in the affected unit or nursing home, all visitors essential and other contacts deemed necessary.
Wider surveillance tests will also be conducted in some nursing homes to obtain a broader picture of the disease.
Fullerton, a former family doctor, described the highly contagious pandemic flu virus as expected and said improving testing and freezing hospitals that transfer patients to long-term care would help limit the damage.
The goal is “to understand how elusive this COVID-19 is and what else we can do, what other tools we have for this,” she added, acknowledging that some nursing homes are were struggling for staff before the disease even struck.
“It is a new virus with a new way of spreading,” Fullerton told reporters, saying that the way it is shared by people who have no symptoms has made management difficult.
Epidemic statistics in more than 100 of the province’s 626 nursing homes became darker on Thursday, further evidence of what Premier Doug Ford has dubbed a “forest fire.”
More than half, or 271, of the 514 new cases of coronavirus reported by the Department of Health were residents of nursing homes which caused 29 of the 38 new deaths.
This is the “first time” that COVID-19 infections in retirement homes have outstripped new infections in the community, said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. Provincial figures are based on reports from the Ontario public health units at 4:00 p.m. the day before.
Figures indicate that COVID-19 cases in nursing homes increased 12% in 24 hours, double the rate in the general population. In Canada, almost half of all deaths from the disease occur in long-term care residents and 93% of deaths occur in people over the age of 60.
Officially, Ontario has reported 162 deaths of nursing home residents, but a more up-to-date Star compilation of reports and press releases from public health units puts the number near 250.
Critics say the province should have put as much effort into preparing nursing homes for the assault as it has prepared hospitals for a wave of patients that has yet to materialize.
“This should never have happened,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath urging Ford to detail a plan to take over the direct management of nursing homes with severe outbreaks, as it happened produced in British Columbia.
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“Families deserve answers as to why their mothers and fathers were not better protected,” added Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, calling for a public inquiry.
In keeping with a promise made by Ford earlier this week, Fullerton said teams from several Toronto hospitals, including Mount Sinai and North York General, have been dispatched to 38 area nursing homes to determine what help they need for patient care, infection prevention and control, personal protective equipment. The ministry did not want to reveal the names of the nursing homes.
“This is the model that we are going to extend across the province.”