Army confirms 40% of COVID-positive troops deployed in long-term care homes were asymptomatic

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Up to 40% of Canadian soldiers infected with the new coronavirus may be carrying the virus symptomlessly while deployed in long-term care homes – and may even have contracted it from the hotels where they were billeted – members of the army recognized today.Remarks by the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and the Deputy Army Surgeon General once again drew attention to the uneven testing regime used by the Department of Defense National Defense (DND), when more than 1,600 soldiers were assigned to provide support for failed long-term care. in Quebec and Ontario.

As CBC News reported earlier this month, the military itself had only tested troops in long-term care homes that showed symptoms of the virus. The asymptomatic military has not been proactively tested – except in cases where the long-term care homes themselves provide screening.

Gen. From Division Marc Bilodeau, the Deputy Surgeon General, told a Senate committee today that 40% of infections involved asymptomatic welds that have been detected by preventive assessments by nursing homes trying to identify and prevent “an uncontrollable epidemic”.

Vance said on Friday in a separate public event that most of the 55 soldiers who contracted the new COVID-19 coronavirus actually recovered it from long-term care homes, which were hot spots. infection throughout the pandemic.

Chief of the Defense Staff, General Jonathan Vance. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press)

“We believe that some of these troops who were determined to be affected were asymptomatic before the start of the operation. A test regime will therefore be very critical in the future, “said Vance at a press conference today on the imminent withdrawal of long-standing military assistance. long-term care centers. The Canadian Red Cross will mobilize hundreds of volunteers to replace the soldiers over the next month.

Only four infected soldiers remain sick. The others recovered and none were hospitalized.

“The possibility that they were infected where they lived was also considered,” said Vance.

“There was also contact with the virus in the facilities we lived in. We shared the space of the hotel with other rescuers, etc. The virus, you know, is insidious and easily contracted. ”

Gaps in the DND test protocol

In response to questions from CBC News in early June, DND admitted that it did not have a uniform test program for the troops – an oversight that alarmed a health and safety policy expert who advised the Ontario SARS Commission over ten years ago.

“To date, mainly symptomatic [Canadian Armed Forces] staff are tested for COVID-19, including [Operation] LASER has deployed staff, “said Dan Le Bouthillier, DND chief media officer, in an email on June 3.

“CAF personnel have been deployed to Op LASER and assessed as being in close contact with COVID-19 cases in [Long-Term Care Facilities] can be proactively tested based on the recommendations of the local public health authority. ”

Mario Possamai, former senior advisor to the Ontario government’s SARS Commission, told CBC News at the time that the military approach amounted to a patchwork policy that did not recognize the extraordinary uncertainty surrounding the transmission of COVID -19.

Possamai acknowledged that the military was following established federal and provincial health protocols, but argued that the approach ignored the growing evidence of symptomless transmission.

In its original story, CBC News asked for clarification by twice requesting an interview with the army’s general surgeon. In both cases, these requests were not recognized.

Bilodeau, when appearing before the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology today, said that at the start of the pandemic deployment, DND had signed a contract with two laboratories – one in Toronto and one in Montreal. – to perform reactive tests on symptomatic people if necessary.

“We now have a more proactive testing system,” said Bilodeau. “Now we have a contract with a private laboratory which allows us to be more proactive. ”

Troops are currently being tested before being deployed to long-term care centers to make sure they are not carrying the virus with them. They are also tested at the end of the deployment to ensure that they will not infect family and friends when they return home.

Vance today defended the decision to limit testing, but admitted that the military had learned important lessons before a possible second wave of the virus – which he said he was concerned about.

Vance said the troops did “a great job” in protecting themselves and did their best under extraordinary circumstances.

“By entering these long-term care facilities, we brought with us the best possible knowledge, but we did not know the facilities themselves,” said Vance.

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