Five more residents of a long-term care facility in North Vancouver have died since the weekend, pushing the B.C. government to escalate measures to protect vulnerable seniors in care homes.
B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said the deaths, paired with outbreaks at two care homes and one hospital, have prompted the province to place further restrictions on visitors, while acknowledging seniors may risk facing loneliness and isolation as a result of the heightened protocols.
On Tuesday, Dr. Henry declared a public-health emergency in British Columbia because of the virus, which has infected close to 200 people in the province.
The Lynn Valley Care Centre was put on outbreak protocol a week and a half ago, after it was confirmed that two residents and a health-care worker had tested positive for the virus. One resident died on March 8, becoming Canada’s first confirmed death from COVID-19, and five more have died since the weekend.
“We, along with everyone else, grieve with those families,” B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday. “This is truly another sombre day.”
There is only one other death linked to the virus in Canada so far. On Tuesday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, David Williams, said a 77-year-old man who died March 11 was found to have the virus in his system and that a coroner is investigating. Officials say he was a close contact of a confirmed case.
At the Lynn Valley Care Centre, at least a dozen health-care workers have also tested positive to date.
Last week, the centre asked those who had recently travelled to certain countries including China, the United States and Germany to refrain from visiting. Those who did enter were screened, asked to wear masks and could only visit their family member.
The province is now escalating protocols further, restricting visits to end-of-life care and family members who routinely provide assistance with feeding or mobility. Ontario has implemented similar measures as well.
“That will mean that we will have to run the risk that seniors will become less connected to others in the community,” Dr. Henry said.
The centre was first flagged on March 5, after a health-care worker at the facility who had no recent travel history presented to her physician with flu-like symptoms. The woman was administered a COVID-19 test, which was made part of B.C.’s regular influenza surveillance, and the result came back positive.
Contact tracing identified several other people at the Lynn Valley Care Centre who also tested positive for the virus and an outbreak was declared on March 7.
Dr. Henry said it appeared that these confirmed cases were all exposed to the virus by someone else, and that an investigation into the source of transmission continues.
On March 12, Dr. Henry confirmed that an outbreak was declared at a second long-term care facility, the Hollyburn House Retirement Residence in West Vancouver, and that it is linked to Lynn Valley. A resident in his 90s and a health-care worker who works at both facilities had tested positive.
On March 13, Vancouver Coastal Health said three administrative staff members at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver had tested positive for the virus. They did not work in clinical areas of the hospital and were sent home to self-isolate, the health authority said.
On Monday, the health authority directed the Lions Gate to accept only emergency patients. The hospital is also preparing to open a dedicated COVID-19 unit to care for those with the virus.
As of Tuesday, B.C. had 186 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 83 new cases confirmed overnight. Dr. Henry attributed the “dramatic increase” to a surge in people being tested, an expansion of testing sites and health officials working through a backlog of hundreds of tests.
Six people are in hospital, five have met the criteria to be considered fully recovered, and “many” others have had symptoms resolve but are awaiting confirmation testing, Dr. Henry said.
A person is deemed fully recovered after two negative tests taken 24 hours apart.
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