Resident of Amherst, N.S., group home dies of COVID-19

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Victoria Harrison died of COVID-19 on Nov. 10, 2021. She was 64. (Special Olympics Amherst/Facebook - image credit)
Victoria Harrison died of COVID-19 on Nov. 10, 2021. She was 64. (Special Olympics Amherst/Facebook - image credit)

A woman in Amherst, N.S., has died of COVID-19 following an outbreak at the group home where she lived. Her death is one of three now linked to a recent religious gathering that failed to follow public health guidelines.

Victoria Harrison, known to family and friends as Vicki, died Nov. 10, one week after testing positive for COVID-19, her niece Nancy Trenholm told CBC News.

"We're mad, we're frustrated," said Trenholm.

Harrison was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but Trenholm said her 64-year-old aunt was not in good health. Trenholm said she's angry with people who have chosen to not get vaccinated, who account for more than 85 per cent of cases in Nova Scotia over the past six months.

"We have everything in place to keep everyone safe," Trenholm said.

Harrison had a developmental disability and her niece co-ordinated and made decisions about her medical care. Trenholm said her aunt was being treated for pneumonia at the beginning of November, but she had fought it before and Trenholm expected her to pull through again — until the COVID-19 diagnosis.

Connection to religious event

Harrison lived in Rupert House, a home for people with intellectual disabilities, and the site of a recent COVID-19 outbreak. Trenholm said she believes the cases at the home stem from a religious event that has caused a COVID-19 spike in parts of Nova Scotia and an outbreak at the East Cumberland Lodge long-term care home in Pugwash, N.S.

On Monday, the province reported two other COVID-related deaths, both at East Cumberland Lodge.

Public Health officials previously said more than 100 people attended the multi-day religious gathering at the end of October and were not asked to provide proof of vaccination, in breach of public health directives.

Trenholm said a resident of her aunt's group home attended the event.

A spokesperson for the Health Department confirmed a connection between Harrison's death and the event.

The agency that runs the group home, Amherst and District Residential Services Society, declined to answer questions from CBC News about the outbreak last week. It has not responded to questions about Harrison's death.

A residential care worker at Rupert House said he believes the source of the infections at the group home is a resident who attended the Gospel Light Baptist Church, which he said hosted last month's event.

Special Olympics Amherst/Facebook
Special Olympics Amherst/Facebook

Jeff Tees would not tell CBC News the name of the home where he worked but he provided a detailed account that matches Trenholm's description. Tees said the home he works at in Amherst recorded its first positive test on Nov. 3 and on the evening of Nov. 10, a resident died.

He said five of the eight residents of the home tested positive for COVID-19.

On the first day of the event, Tees said he called Amherst police to report the gathering. He said he believed attendees weren't wearing masks.

Amherst police waiting for Public Health advice

Staff Sgt. Brian Gairns of the Amherst Police Department said police forwarded a complaint about not masking at a gathering to Public Health. As of Monday morning, the department was awaiting a response on how to handle the complaint.

Asked whether the complaint was related to the Gospel Light Baptist Church, Gairns said, "Yes, I believe so."

Public Health said it would not interfere or direct a police investigation.

"If police get a complaint about public health measures not being followed, we would anticipate those complaints are being followed up on, as what is in the current order is the law and should be enforced," a spokesperson said via email.

Tees said he's frustrated there was no police intervention at the time and that no charges have been laid.

"I think there should be charges filed against this organization that deliberately endangered the most visible, vulnerable population of people in our town … There needs to be accountability," he said.

Gospel Light Baptist Church did not respond to a request from CBC News for comment.

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