Hospital transfer workers are seen outside the Lynn Valley Centre care home in North Vancouver, B.C. on April 8, 2020. Seniors who complained of fatigue, confusion or just didn’t seem like themselves were tested for COVID-19, allowing the Vancouver Coastal Health authority to get in front of the virus, a health official says. Medical health officer Dr. Michael Schwandt said they began testing broadly and often, and not just those who had classic symptoms of the virus. It was a decision Schwandt said helped pinpoint developing cases before they could spread in care homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Hospital transfer workers are seen outside the Lynn Valley Centre care home in North Vancouver, B.C. on April 8, 2020. Seniors who complained of fatigue, confusion or just didn’t seem like themselves were tested for COVID-19, allowing the Vancouver Coastal Health authority to get in front of the virus, a health official says. Medical health officer Dr. Michael Schwandt said they began testing broadly and often, and not just those who had classic symptoms of the virus. It was a decision Schwandt said helped pinpoint developing cases before they could spread in care homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Vancouver’s long-term care homes test for variety of symptoms for COVID-19

Outbreaks have been declared in 34 facilities in B.C. since the start of the pandemic

Seniors who complained of fatigue, confusion or just didn’t seem like themselves were tested for COVID-19, allowing the Vancouver Coastal Health authority to get in front of the virus, a health official says.

Medical health officer Dr. Michael Schwandt said they began testing broadly and often, and not just those who had classic symptoms of the virus.

It was a decision Schwandt said helped pinpoint developing cases before they could spread in care homes.

“We found that often times people don’t necessarily declare their symptoms or people with different chronic illnesses might be slower to notice symptoms or attributed to health conditions they already have,” he said in an interview.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said B.C. was “hit early and tragically” in the long-term care sector.

The Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver was the first facility to report a COVID-19 infection on March 6 and the outbreak was declared over on Thursday.

“And think of that, it’s been months that that facility has been living with this hanging over them. But we learned from that,” Henry said.

Authorities took a “swat team approach” to the outbreak with measures that included “very sensitive surveillance” and testing, Henry told a recent news conference.

Outbreaks have been declared in 34 facilities in B.C. since the start of the pandemic, but more than half of those long-term care homes no longer have any cases.

Henry said those outbreaks have been responsible for the majority of the deaths in the province.

Over 400 residents and staff at B.C. care homes have tested positive for the virus. Vancouver Coastal Health has had 14 outbreaks in long-term homes and two in acute care facilities.

READ MORE: B.C. will ‘have to find a way’ for families to visit seniors in longterm care: advocate

Just as infections began in B.C.’s care homes, care facilities for seniors in Ontario and Quebec were also being ravaged by the new coronavirus causing a large proportion of the country’s now more than 4,400 deaths.

About 80 per cent of Quebec’s pandemic deaths have occurred at long-term care and seniors residences that have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

More than 1,200 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed among residents in Ontario care homes, which account for about half the 478 known deaths.

Schwandt said Vancouver Coastal Health learned from the experiences of Quebec and Ontario and what they were seeing in outbreaks internationally.

“In a couple of outbreaks, we’ve tested all the staff regardless of symptoms and we have found people who had no symptoms at all and later became ill with COVID-19,” he said.

Staff started extensive use of personal protective equipment, visits were cut off and those diagnosed were isolated.

Then they began testing for the virus around the facilities.

“In some cases, they found COVID-19 to contaminate equipment or parts of the facility … equipment carts or blood pressure cups,” he said. ”The building itself is of high quality but the risk of contamination within buildings with COVID-19 is something we’ve been learning more about.”

The buildings were deep cleaned depending on the specific facility, equipment and how much traffic they saw, he said.

Schwandt said he recommends “very proactive” testing within facilities and cautious tracing of known cases.

“Even a small amount of contact, we have found, can lead to a transmission between residents and staff and so it’s important to look very closely at even limited contact and monitor them for symptoms.”

READ MORE: No easy fix for long-term care, but it starts with working conditions: experts

And while the risk of illness from the new coronavirus does seem to be more serious among seniors, Schwandt said several of them have recovered.

Dr. Roger Wong, a clinical professor of geriatric medicine at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine, said the pandemic has unmasked a number of serious issues faced by long-term care facilities.

Not only do the care facilities need to address infection prevention and control but also underlying physical- and mental-health conditions, he said.

“Those seniors who have more severe form of dementia, they are definitely at higher risk of COVID-19,” Wong said.

Alzheimer’s patients tend to wander and might become infected in their travel through the facility, he said.

While measures such as testing, tracing, extensive use of personal protective equipment and cleaning can help combat the spread of the virus, Wong said a “paradigm shift in the underlying culture and understanding and value of these homes” is required to help control future infections.

He said these aren’t just facilities for seniors, they are their homes.

“That understanding will drive further change.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Terry Miller won the Rossland byelection on Saturday. Photo: Terry Miller
Rossland voters select Terry Miller as new councillor

City of Rossland releases results of advance voting and final voting day of council byelection

RNG plant
Construction on ground-breaking RNG plant in Fruitvale set to go in spring 2021

REN Energy partners with Calgary engineering firm for innovative West Kootenay gas plant

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

This picture of Taghum resident Marc Savard was taken in February when he first spoke to the Nelson Star and little was known about the virus that had shut him out of his job in Wuhan, China. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: Once an outlier, Nelson man’s COVID-19 experience now typical

Savard was living in Wuhan, China, when the pandemic began

Communities like Nakusp are grappling with the challenge of hooking high-speed internet up at individual homes. File photo
‘Last mile’ debate a Gordian knot in Slocan Valley’s fibre-optic cable plans

How do you bring high-speed internet not just to communities, but individual homes?

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Follow public health recommendations, says Interior Health as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Revelstoke. (Image courtesy CDC)
Revelstoke positive COVID cases grows to 29

Interior Health announced a cluster in the community on Nov. 26

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

2020
Urban wildlife Part VI: The East Kootenay birds of autumn

The work of local photographers printed in the pages of the East Kootenay Advertiser throughout 2020. Part VI.

Most Read