Concern rises alongside soaring COVID cases in Alberta's care homes

·3 min read

Cases of COVID-19 in Alberta's continuing care homes have more than quadrupled in the past month, raising concerns among experts and those with loved ones in the residences.

The number of active cases in the province's care homes now stands at 418, up from 102 a month ago, and 213 residents have died since the start of the pandemic earlier this year.

Those figures are a source of stress for people like Joyce Harris, whose husband and 98-year-old mother are both in homes.

Her mother suffers from dementia and is living at Carewest George Boyack, currently locked down due to an outbreak.

'She doesn't understand'

"She doesn't understand what's going on. You tell her about COVID and how it's impacting people, and that's why the regulations are in place, that's why she can't go out," said Harris.

"But within five minutes, she's forgotten that so, you know, she's upset again, because she doesn't understand why we're not going to see her."

Harris says her mother gets frustrated and has occasionally gone to the front doors and started banging on them to be let out.

There have been "many teary phone calls," she said.

Her mother's home is one of 41 around the province with outbreaks. Her husband's residence is not one of them.

Health officials have asked care homes in Calgary and Edmonton to further limit visitors while transmissions rates in the broader community are high.

Community transmission enters homes

Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson, an infectious disease physician and virology researcher at the University of Calgary, says the number of outbreaks is not necessarily surprising.

"It's quite possible these numbers will climb over the coming days to weeks, and certainly … with growing community transmission, it wouldn't be unexpected to see other introductions into facilities," she said.

Meier-Stephenson says there is only so much that can be done to protect those within residences, as they require care from employees who can bring an infection into the homes.

That's a big concern for Mike Conroy with the Brenda Strafford Foundation, which runs several care centres in Calgary.

Plans needed

He wants the province to come up with a specific continuing care plan that provides more protection for residents while taking into account how important visits are for their mental health.

"Things like access to rapid testing, in terms of a 24-hour turnaround, on test results, having testing capacity dedicated to continuing care staff and residents, having a priority around rapid testing technology, when that's available," he said.

Conroy also wants information on outbreaks in the zone shared quickly, almost in real-time, and fast access to "comprehensive contact tracing support" if a case shows up in a continuing care centre.

Harris wants to see strict quarantine measures put in place for new residents moving into a facility. She says the current outbreak at her mom's home was introduced by a new resident.