Community spread of COVID-19 puts 8 seniors in Eastern Townships in hospital

Public health officials in the Eastern Townships are warning that COVID-19 is spreading through community transmission in the region, after eight people living in a seniors' residence in Sherbrooke started showing symptoms of the illness over the weekend.

An elderly woman living at the Résidence Soleil-Manoir Sherbrooke discovered Friday that her son had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the residence said in a statement.

Her son had not travelled recently, so regional public health director Dr. Alain Poirier said it appears the man became infected in the community. 

Staff at the residence put the woman under stricter monitoring. On Saturday night, 14 days after her son's visit, the woman and seven other residents started showing symptoms and were taken to hospital. 

Poirier said the public health investigation has concluded the woman is a fourth-generation transmission. 

"We're worried, that's for certain," said Alain Boutin, who has family members living at the residence. "With this situation, it's clear some measures were not in place, but in any case, we can't know how it will play out." 

Seniors more vulnerable to symptoms

"We've been saying it since the beginning: the elderly are more at risk because of the condition of their cardiovascular and pulmonary systems," Poirier said. 

Quebec Premier François Legault said Monday there needs to be increased vigilance to protect seniors during the pandemic, and it is imperative COVID-19 is kept out of seniors' homes as much as possible. 

He issued an order that residents of long-term care institutions must remain indoors, unless they are accompanied by someone else or in the event of an emergency.

At the Sherbrooke residence, those living in the 444-unit home are now confined to their rooms, and some staff members who had been in close contact with the infected residents are in self-isolation.  

Denise Veilleux, whose 84-year-old mother lives at the residence, said she is worried about her mother but believes she will be safe in her room. 

There are 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Eastern Townships, according to the provincial government.