Published July 15, 2022

COVID outbreaks more than doubled in Ontario LTC homes since last weekly report

In the two-week period ending July 9, 44 people aged 80 and older died from COVID

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Toronto

New COVID-19 outbreaks more than doubled in Ontario long-term care homes in the first week of July, Public Health Ontario says, as the sector sees the impact of a seventh virus wave.

The latest weekly report on the virus in Ontario said there were 42 new outbreaks recorded in the sector during the week of July 3 to July 9. That's an increase of 110 per cent from the previous week's 20 new reported outbreaks.

Public Health Ontario said there were a total of 97 active outbreaks as of the week of July 3 and the Ministry of Long-Term Care said that had risen to 101 homes experiencing outbreaks as of Thursday this week. 

The ministry said there were 757 active cases among residents and 383 cases among staff.

A spokesman for the Long-Term Care Ministry said homes are expected to follow practices that include support for updated vaccinations, timely access to antiviral treatments, visitor screening and use of personal protective equipment. 

"Health and safety measures remain in place to help homes when COVID-19 outbreaks occur," Mark Nesbitt said in an email.

Infection prevention and control audits are completed every week when homes are in outbreak, the statement said, and every other week if homes aren't in outbreak. Other temporary measures like visitor limits may be brought in during outbreaks.

Nesbitt also pointed to the benefits of vaccination in protecting residents. More than 96 per cent of eligible long-term care residents had received third COVID-19 vaccine doses as of July 12, Nesbitt said, and more than 80 per cent of those eligible had received fourth doses.

By the same date, more than 88 per cent of eligible staff had received third doses, the statement said.

Ontario widened access to fourth doses to all adults this week, and Nesbitt said homes are encouraged to "share information" about the expansion with staff caregivers and family members.

The latest long-term care statistics come as the province weathers a summer wave of infections driven by the BA.5 Omicron subvariant. 

Dr. Kieran Moore, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that the wave could peak in the next two weeks, though it's difficult to predict trends because the province has limited access to gold-standard PCR tests. 

This week's public health COVID-19 update said outbreaks in high-risk settings rose 87 per cent overall since the last report. Increases were reported in all congregate living settings except correctional facilities. 

In addition to the 42 new outbreaks in long-term care homes, there were 39 outbreaks reported in retirement homes over the July 3 to 9 period and 28 outbreaks reported in hospitals. Shelters reported 10 new outbreaks and group homes saw 25. 

While case rates are increasing across most age groups, Public Health Ontario said the 80 and older age cohort had the highest increase in case rates for the week of July 3, at 37 per cent. The case rate for that age group was "three to 13 times higher than other age groups," the report said. 

In a two-week period ending July 9, 44 people aged 80 and older died from COVID-19, Public Health Ontario said. The province has reported 65 deaths from COVID-19 in total over that period.

Long-term care homes have been especially hard-hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, though vaccinations have blunted the virus' deadly impact since residents began receiving shots in late 2020. 

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health in Toronto, said the long-term care population remains vulnerable to COVID-19 and he's concerned the risks to them may have fallen "out of sight, out of mind" at this stage of the pandemic.

While there was a big push to get long-term care residents vaccinated with initial shots, Sinha said some are now falling behind on vaccinations, or may have waning immunity against the virus after receiving fourth shots late last year or early this year. The province has also ended rules that required visitors to the homes be vaccinated.

Sinha said there should be a continued push from government to ensure residents are caught up on their COVID-19 vaccinations so they are protected when virus waves hit the province. 

"As we loosen these restrictions, we have to remember that the vulnerability of these residents hasn't actually fallen, and my only concern now is that we've started to normalize this issue, and that we're going to continually see waves of infection come through," he said. 

"This will translate into thousands of additional deaths that were really unnecessary, given the fact that we actually have the tools to really protect people and support them."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2022.

Feature image - file photo - Barrie 360

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