FREDERICTON — The 18-bed Alzheimer's unit at the first nursing home in New Brunswick to report a COVID-19 outbreak has transformed into a "mini-hospital," according to the facility's owner.
Guy Tremblay, CEO of Quebec-based Lokia Group, said a nurse is working at the unit and residents are checked at least twice daily for vital health signs and coronavirus symptoms.
Four COVID-19 cases were reported over the weekend at the Manoir de la Vallee in Atholville, a long-term care facility where a worker tested positive last week.
The employee had worked three night shifts before testing positive for the illness, and was not symptomatic at the time, Tremblay said.
Tremblay said it's now a company priority to make sure the residence is fully staffed to beat back the virus over the next several weeks, and Lokia is consulting with the province and health authority to ensure workers are available in case more people become ill in the coming days.
"I think over the next six weeks we'll be in the heavy situation before the calm will come back," Tremblay said from Quebec City.
New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Monday — the first time in several days amid a cluster of infections in the northern part of the province.
Four people are in the hospital including one person in intensive care, according to a case update posted to the government website.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, advised on Sunday that all residents and staff of the Manoir de la Vallee were tested rapidly and will be isolated and monitored for the next 14 days.
There are 12 active cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, all of them linked to the cluster in the Campbellton area.
Officials have said the outbreak began after another health-care worker contracted the virus in Quebec and returned to work at Campbellton Regional Hospital without self-isolating.
Tremblay, whose company owns care homes in New Brunswick and Quebec — including two where coronavirus has been detected — said the outbreak is not a surprise, even with preventive measures like personal protective equipment for staff.
He said the home is approaching outbreak control as a marathon rather than a sprint, including ensuring time off for workers.
Back-up was called in from other provincial departments and the Vitalite health network over the weekend after 10 of the 29 staff members — about a third of the workers at Manoir de la Vallee — advised that they would not work due to fear of exposure.
Tremblay said most of the workers are on leave after they signalled intentions to return once COVID-19 was no longer detected in the home. The company intends to accommodate their requests.
"We respect that position, we can't force them to come back to work. We just listen to them and recognize their fear," he said.
In the long run, he said staffing could become an issue if the coronavirus were to spread to other care homes in the region and people are not available to fill in.
Bernard Savoie, Lokia Group's regional director for Restigouche County, said the four cases were detected in the Alzheimer's unit at the facility, which is separate from the other 39 rooms.
He said two of the residents have been hospitalized and the other two were in their rooms at the facility as of Monday.
Before the latest outbreak, the province had gone more than two weeks without new cases and had begun opening more businesses and services in the "yellow" phase of its reopening plan.
The emerging COVID-19 cluster led to increased testing in Health Zone 5, where more than 3,300 tests were completed over the weekend. The region was also moved back a step in the province's reopening plan, to the "orange" stage.
The Vitalite health authority offered mass screening clinics over three days, wrapping up Sunday, while the emergency department of Campbellton Regional Hospital remained closed as of Monday.
The health-care worker believed to be the first patient in the outbreak has been suspended from his position, after it's believed he came in contact with 100 people, according to the health authority.
Meanwhile, Tremblay said the residents at Manoir de la Vallee are being cared for and families should be patient as the facility responds to the outbreak.
"The sun will come back soon," he said.
— by Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's, N.L.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.
The Canadian Press