3 more seniors die, leaving Ontario cottage community shocked by COVID-19 outbreak in nursing home

3 more seniors die, leaving Ontario cottage community shocked by COVID-19 outbreak in nursing home

An Ontario nursing home ravaged by an outbreak of COVID-19 confirmed Tuesday that three more residents have died, bringing the total number of coronavirus-linked fatalities among residents there to 12. A volunteer who visited her husband at the home has also died. 

The outbreak has left those with family members at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., feeling powerless to do anything. 

Lloyd Thomas told CBC News he wishes he was well enough to take his wife out of the home, but he can't. 

"I was afraid my wife's going to die," he said in an interview with CBC News. 

Thomas has nothing but praise for the nursing home, located in a town of around 3,500 people in Ontario's cottage country about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto, but the virus that has infected its residents has him fearing for her safety.

Thomas said a doctor at the facility told him his wife, Annabelle, is fine. But Thomas, who lives in Bobcaygeon, is 86, and Annabelle is two years older and has Alzheimer's disease, meaning there's little he can do but hope that she emerges healthy from the outbreak.

WATCH | CBC's Ellen Mauro speaks with a woman who lost her mother at Pinecrest and a nurse worried about others inside the facility:

The facility is home to 65 residents. Since a news release went out March 26 reporting that two residents at the home had died, ten more have succumbed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. A woman who stepped in to volunteer at the home has also died.

Michelle Snarr, the medical director of Pinecrest, said Monday at least three other residents have tested positive for COVID-19. More than a third of the home's staff — 24 people — also tested positive, and test results for ten other staff members are pending, according to the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.

"We get more heartbreaking news all the time. I've been in practice for 32 years. I've seen a lot of bad stuff happen, but I don't remember anything with this level of sadness," said Snarr.

WATCH:  'It's grim,' says Pinecrest medical director

It's unclear how the outbreak began, whether it came from a visitor to the facility or a new resident. But the number of cases and deaths within the small nursing home has stunned many in the community. 

"It's pretty sad for a little community like this," said area resident Bob Hetherington.

It was neighbours who first told Thomas about the deaths at the nursing home.

Evan Mitsui/CBC

"Absolutely, I was shocked," he said.

Sarah Gardiner, a nurse at Pinecrest who has worked at the home for 12 years, had a similar reaction. 

"I've been doing this a long time, never run into a situation like this," she said.

"To have so much death occurring so quickly in such a short space of time and just to watch the effect on the community, not only the community of Pinecrest Nursing Home but the community of Bobcaygeon. 

"People are frightened, and it's just overwhelming."

Home turned upside down

When Gardiner arrived Saturday afternoon for work, having just returned from Vancouver, everything at the nursing home had changed, she said.

Equipment was all over the place, and everyone was walking around in full protective gear.

"The nursing home felt like a war zone," said Gardiner.

Bobcaygeon, a small town made somewhat famous by the Tragically Hip song of the same name, is located in the Kawartha Lakes region, an area dotted with cottages.

Gardiner said she never imagined an outbreak like this could occur in such a small, out of the way, tourist area.

"You would think, OK, maybe in the city in one of the bigger [seniors] homes. But how it happened here, I don't know," she said.

"I really care about those people, and we're losing them, and they can't even see their family in many cases because we are in lockdown."

WATCH: Families should take their loved ones out of long-term care if they are able, says CARP

Window visits

In some instances, family members are only able to communicate through the window of the nursing home, with a wave. 

"Unfortunately, by the point that happens, many of these residents are so ill that they're not aware of what is happening around them and that their family is there," Gardiner said.

"It's a very lonely situation for the residents, and that makes it very heartbreaking."

Submitted by Ian Handscomb

Ian Handscomb and his mother have been doing regular "window visits" with his father, Bill, who suffers from advanced Parkinson's disease.

"What we do is sit outside his window and [talk] through writing on signs. We're able to kind of keep in contact through that way," he told CBC's As It Happens.

But the past week, he says, has been an emotional rollercoaster. 

"We think maybe we've got to a good spot where they're starting to make some progress, then we hear it's ramping up again," he said.

"And it's very emotional for the families, and the whole community in Bobcaygeon are touched by this horrible, horrible situation."

Handscomb lives in Toronto but has relocated to Bobcaygeon to be with his mother.

"We never thought in little Bobcaygeon, away from a big metropolis, that it would be one of the [disease] epicentres of Ontario."