Alarm bells ring over COVID-19 and long-term care; Ontario sees slowing virus growth

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Politicians, advocates and public health officials were ringing the alarm Thursday over COVID-19's impact on long-term care homes as new modelling out of Ontario projected the virus will spread at a more gentle rate than feared. 

Green party Leader Annamie Paul urged a national inquiry on long-term care in Canada and said the first thing Ottawa should do is add long-term care to the Canada Health Act.

Paul, who has said she couldn't visit her father before he died from a non-COVID infection in a care home in May, said the pandemic has proven how broken and inadequate the system is.

"If we have arrived at a situation where we need to call in the Canadian Armed Forces and the Red Cross, which is a humanitarian organization that is normally deployed in war zones and in developing countries, if we have to deploy those two bodies in order to save lives in our long-term care facilities across Canada, then there is a serious problem."

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, said she wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in early June to ask for federal cash to help with capital improvements and human resources before the second wave of COVID-19 hit.

She said she received a form letter from a Health Canada aide last week that pointed out long-term care is a provincial responsibility.

"You can't stand up there and say this matters and then say it's somebody else's responsibility," Duncan said. 

More than 100 residences are reporting outbreaks, including 79 in Ontario, 14 in Alberta, 21 in British Columbia and 19 in Manitoba.

Authorities in Quebec said Thursday there were five long-term care homes where more than 25 per cent of residents had active cases of COVID-19 — down from eight the day before. 

They said there were six private seniors residences where more than one-quarter of residents had active infections, a situation they described as critical.

Quebec reported 1,030 new cases and 25 more deaths in Thursday's update.

In Manitoba, there were 26 active and 61 resolved cases of COVID-19 among residents in Winnipeg's Parkview Place Long Term Care Home, said its for-profit operator Revera. Nineteen had died. 

There were also 14 active and 15 resolved cases among staff at the home, which has 221 residents. 

Manitoba reported 193 new COVID-19 cases, a record daily high, in its update. 

Also Thursday, new projections in Ontario suggested the province appears to be moving away from a worst-case scenario in COVID-19 growth.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, said advisers estimate a "steady state level" of between 800 and 1,200 new cases a day for "awhile." 

"Most indicators are showing a slowing growth in COVID-19 cases. The trajectory appears to be moving away from the worst case, but cases are continuing to climb," Brown told a news conference.

"And so this is not that we've crested and are now coming back down the other side of the epidemic curve. We are just getting to a slower period of growth within that curve."

Projections released late last month showed the province recording 1,000 new daily cases by mid-October. Ontario passed that threshold once last weekend but the numbers have since dropped.

Ontario reported 10 COVID-19 deaths and 934 new infections on Thursday.

Meanwhile, 46 infections were linked to a wedding in a Toronto suburb earlier this month. York Region Public Health said more than 100 people attended the wedding at an event centre in Vaughan over two days — Oct. 14, and Oct. 18. The region's deputy medical officer of health said charges are possible. 

The majority of the cases — 33 as of Thursday — were in Peel Region, west of Toronto. Others were in York Region and Toronto, as well as farther-flung areas such as Waterloo and Simcoe-Muskoka.

Alberta reported 477 new COVID-19 cases in its Thursday update after breaking through the 500-mark on the weekend. The province also had five new deaths. 

— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa, Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg and Steve Lambert in Winnipeg

This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 29, 2020. 

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press