An outbreak has been declared at a long-term care facility in North Vancouver after two residents tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The two cases are linked to B.C.’s first confirmed case of community transmission. On Thursday, it was announced that a woman in her 50s with no recent travel history had tested positive for COVID-19.
The woman, who resides in the Fraser Health region, is a health-care worker at the facility, and the two new cases were discovered as part of an outbreak assessment, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Saturday.
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“This is one of the scenarios that we have been, of course, most concerned about,” Dr. Henry said.
“We know that the risk for elderly people having this disease is very concerning, and that they are more likely to have more severe disease, particularly older people with underlying chronic illnesses.
“We also know that many people who work in care homes work in many other settings as well.”
It is not yet known whether the health-care worker brought the virus into the facility or if they were all exposed to someone else, Dr. Henry said. Outbreak investigators will now look at the timing of symptoms and follow up with other contacts.
The North Shore care facility, which has 139 government subsidized beds and 65 private rooms and suites, is now in outbreak protocol. Residents are monitored daily for respiratory illness, personal protective equipment is used for all interactions and communal gatherings have been halted. Meals are delivered to residents on trays in lieu of dining together in a common area.
On Saturday afternoon, signs posted to the front doors of the facility warned of a “coronavirus outbreak alert.” A letter from the centre’s director of care, Betty Wills, asked anyone visiting family to wash their hands before entering. It also asked those who had recently travelled to countries including China, the U.S. and Germany to refrain from visiting at all.
Those who do enter are screened, must wear a mask and can only visit their family member. They must go directly in and out of the facility and cannot mingle with staff or other residents.
“It’s hard,” Dr. Henry said. “It’s hard on the families, it’s hard on the residents. Often older people may have dementia and other things that make it challenging to be in that situation.”
Family members of residents at the facility came and went throughout the afternoon.
Althea Gibb-Carsley, whose 94-year-old mother-in-law is a resident of the facility, said the mood inside was tense.
“This team here at this facility is doing their level best. The staff are scared but they are showing up to work, and they are taking care,” Ms. Gibb-Carsley said. “There is hand sanitizer everywhere you turn.”
Vancouver Coastal Health was on site Saturday doing a detailed assessment of staff, residents and family members.
Ms. Gibb-Carsley, who said her mother-in-law lives on a different floor from the two confirmed COVID-19 cases, said that that while the situation is worrisome, she has confidence in how the health authority is handling it.
“I’ve watched the staff take care with what they’re doing,” she said. “I think it’s prudent to worry a bit. I think it’s more prudent to not panic and wash your hands well.”
She added that while the staff appear worried, she saw no evidence that fear is being passed on to the residents like her mother-in-law, many of whom have cognitive challenges. Staff on her mother-in-law’s floor are not wearing medical masks, she said.
The two care home cases were announced Saturday along with four other new cases. Those include a man in his 50s in the Fraser Health region who had recently travelled to Iran and a household contact of his, also in her 50s.
As well, a man and a woman, both in their 60s, were diagnosed with COVID-19 after a Feb. 11-21 cruise to Mexico aboard the Grand Princess. They are among 127 British Columbians who have since returned home and have been asked to self-isolate.
Public health officials have identified other several people who contracted the disease during that voyage, including an Ontario couple, an Alberta woman and a 71-year-old California man who has since died.
Althea Hayden, a medical officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, said that all cruise ship passengers in the health authority’s jurisdiction have been identified and contacted.
"We are asking folks to monitor for symptoms and then get tested promptly if they do develop symptoms,” Ms. Hayden said.
The Grand Princess is now idling off the coast of California, with 237 Canadians onboard, after 21 people from the latest sailing tested positive for the disease.
Jan Swartz, group president of Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia, said Saturday that it is still unknown where the ship will dock.
“We understand that discussions are ongoing with the various government authorities and so we await a decision as to where we will be berthing the ship,” she said.
On a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters on Friday, President Donald Trump said he would rather the passengers remain on board because he did not want the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases to increase.
“I like the numbers being where they are,” he told reporters. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”
The president said he “could live either way with it” and would leave it to others to make the decision.
B.C. has now confirmed a total of 27 COVID-19 cases. The first four have fully recovered, and one is in stable condition.