Wallaceburg LTC home in major COVID-19 outbreak with 87 cases

·3 min read

Fairfield Park long-term care home in Wallaceburg is experiencing a major outbreak COVID-19 with 87 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning — a first for the Chatham-Kent region.

Chatham-Kent Public Health reported the numbers in its daily update Thursday.

Chatham-Kent Public Health officials said that the health unit has deployed staff to assist Fairfield Park, including a infection prevention and control officer to provide advice.

A number of community organizations are also assisting the home, the health unit said, including the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance hospital, the Alzheimer Society of Chatham-Kent, and Chatham-Kent EMS.

In a statement to CBC News, Tracey Maxim, the administrator of Fairfield Park, said the home appreciates the help.

"We are grateful for the assistance from our medical community and we are confident that we are doing everything we can to ensure the continued health and safety of everyone at Fairfield Park," the statement says.

Chatham-Kent medical officer of health Dr. David Colby said that the help is needed because of the outbreak's effect on staffing.

"When you get large numbers of staff isolated because of contacts, then you end up with staffing issues," he said. "People have stepped up to the plate, and it is being managed."

The home has capacity for 103 residents, according to the health unit, and there are 90 residents currently.

Neither the health unit nor Fairfield Park have provided a breakdown of how many of the cases are residents and how many are staff. When asked for the numbers, the health unit declined to answer, citing privacy reasons.

In Fairfield's most recent update — posted to its website on Tuesday when infection numbers were lower — it said 32 residents, 26 staff, and one essential caregiver tested positive for COVID-19.

Jacob Barker/CBC
Jacob Barker/CBC

In the home's statement, Maxim said it is taking a number of measures in response to the outbreak, including isolating residents, twice daily monitoring of symptoms, and ensuring that all staff and caregivers use personal protective equipment (PPE).

But in a statement released Thursday, Unifor Local 2458, which represents workers at the home, said employees were given non-medical grade masks. In the statement, the union said Fairfield "Only removed them after the union did their own research to disprove the employer's claims that the masks were government approved."

In Fairfield's statement, Maxim said that a "long-standing supplier" delivered masks to them in a box that was mislabeled.

"Despite assurances from the supplier that these masks were the appropriate masks for use in long-term care homes, as soon as this was brought to our attention this week, these masks were immediately pulled from use in our home," the statement reads.

"We welcome any reviews of our infection prevention and control measures from the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health, and/or the Ministry of Long-Term Care," it continues.

When Dr. Colby was questioned about this at the public health update, he said the health unit makes sure that all precautions are being followed.

Unprecedented for the region

In spite of the outbreak, Dr. Colby pointed out that Chatham-Kent had avoided COVID-19 cases among long-term care residents for a year.

As a result, this is the first time the health unit has had to coordinate a response to a long-term care outbreak.

"You can't hold back a tsunami forever," he said. "This is a new thing for Chatham-Kent."

The health unit said that the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care is aware of the situation, and that the response is being conducted under the direction of the ministry.

According to the health unit, there are approximately 600 long-term care residents left to vaccinate.

The health unit reported 142 active cases of COVID-19 in the region in Thursday's update.