Care home restrictions scrutinized

Restrictions in long-term care homes remain largely in place as governments begin to relax the rules around COVID-19.

The facilities, many located in rural communities, remain a focus of concern since the vast majority of deaths in Canada have occurred in them.

While the prairie provinces have not seen the devastating numbers that Quebec and Ontario have, Alberta has recorded at least 544 positive cases and 59 deaths in continuing care homes.

One of Saskatchewan’s six deaths was in long-term care in LaLoche, and two of Manitoba’s six also happened in care homes in Winnipeg.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s public health officer, said April 30 that the good news amid its 275 cases is that there hasn’t been significant community transmission or outbreaks in care homes.

Effective May 1, a public health order in that province limited staff to working in just a single care home.

“We spoke earlier this week about the sobering statistics across the country that show over half, and sometimes up to 80 percent, of the COVID deaths are residents of long-term care facilities,” said Lanette Sirigusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health in Manitoba.

The province has 127 licensed personal care homes and by April 30 the “monumental” job of creating a staffing plan that limits workers to one facility had largely been completed, she said, with six sites still working on their plans.

Visitor restrictions remain in place at these homes to protect the vulnerable, she added.

In Saskatchewan, staff in personal and long-term care homes were also restricted to one facility as of April 28. All provinces were working on how to ensure that staff who worked in multiple facilities would be accommodated.

An outbreak of 50 cases in LaLoche, in northern Saskatchewan, is linked to workers returning from the Kearl Lake oilsands project near Fort McMurray but it’s unknown if the cases in the care home are tied to that outbreak.

Alberta workers in continuing-care centres are still waiting to hear when they will be limited to one site.

Dr. Deena Henshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, has issued an order but the challenges of implementing it affect 35,000 workers.

Thirty-four facilities across the province have reported outbreaks. Calgary in particular has been hard hit with at least 21 deaths in a single facility.

Meanwhile, the province eased restrictions for long-term care residents who aren’t in self-isolation, allowing them to visit outdoors with a designated essential visitor who can help them and one other.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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