Protecting seniors from COVID-19 a challenge as coronavirus spread continues in Edmonton – Edmonton


Of the 32 COVID-19 outbreaks in the Edmonton area, more than half are in long-term care homes or residences with supportive services.Edmonton General Continuing Care, run by Covenant Health, is one of the newest long-term care homes struggling with the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Friday, 25 residents and six staff tested positive and one resident died.

“If the infection gets into a long-term care home, you can expect more than 10% mortality in this group in people who otherwise had a reasonable quality of life and should have lived longer,” said said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, a disease specialist from the University of Alberta.

She said the issue of protecting vulnerable people was complex.

“I haven’t seen any example in the world of being able to keep older people (or) in long-term care – people with many risk factors – safely when spreading in the community, because the virus is just too sneaky.

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Saxinger advocated for policies to try to limit the spread.

“Make sure that people who work with the elderly are given sick leave that is supported and encouraged,” she said.

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Saxinger added that nursing homes need to be supported by all other community members who are doing their part.

“The best defense against this is actually to reduce community transmission,” she said.

Zachary Penner, executive director of communications for Shepherd’s Care, echoed the sentiment.

“When the population increases, the number of cases will inevitably end up … in nursing homes and hospitals, in schools and hospices.”

READ MORE: Alberta confirms 432 more COVID-19 cases as death toll hits 300 on Friday

Good Shepherd’s Millwoods long-term care center has been dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 since last month. More than 100 people have tested positive there.

Sixty-one patients – all on the third floor – as well as 42 staff members were infected. Forty-one of them have recovered to date, while eight have died. Only 10 residents on the ground remained healthy during the outbreak.

“We did our contact tracing and believe it was introduced to our facility by a visitor around mid-September,” said Penner.

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He explained that at the end of July, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr Deena Hinshaw, relaxed the rules regarding visits to nursing homes.

The first Millwoods patient to test positive had nine visitors over a two-week period before falling ill. Penner believes that an asymptomatic visitor has passed the screening and has broken the rules of distancing or hiding when alone with their loved one, infecting him.

Today, Shepherd’s Care must once again restrict unsupervised visits.

“We decided that the cases were getting too out of control in Edmonton and that it was becoming too risky to allow any of these cases,” said Penner.

READ MORE: Hinshaw warns young Albertans that long-term effects of COVID-19 remain unknown

Instead, at least once a week, residents of Shepherd’s Care facilities are allowed to meet their families remotely, wearing markings in common areas. Staff will supervise to ensure proper precautions are followed.

Isolated patients will receive virtual visits once a week.

“So just because you can get fed up and feel like you don’t want to deal with the masking and distancing yourself, you’re not just doing it for yourself,” Penner said. “You are doing it for the most vulnerable in our population.”

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