Three more residents of the Pinecrest Nursing Home have died, bringing to 12 the total number of seniors presumed to have died of COVID-19 at the small facility in Bobcaygeon, Ont.
Michelle Snarr, the home’s medical director, told The Globe and Mail that one resident died on Tuesday morning and two others overnight.
The 65-bed Pinecrest home is the site of one of the worst known outbreaks of the coronavirus in Canada. Twenty-four workers had tested positive as of Monday, according to the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
Dr. Snarr said the people of Bobcaygeon, a cottage-country town of 3,500 northeast of Toronto, were rallying to support workers and residents at the home.
“Families [are] having ‘window visits,’ ” she said by e-mail. “Staff take a loved one to the window and open it a crack so families can have some sort of contact without going inside.”
A nurse Dr. Snarr spoke to Monday said people in the community have been sending messages of support and plenty of food to the home.
“Late in the afternoon, a long line of cars drove in a convoy up and down the road past Pinecrest, some waving the Canadian flag,” Dr. Snarr wrote.
Dr. Snarr learned on March 20 that three residents had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Two residents died the next week. Another seven died this past weekend.
All had symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and are presumed to have died of it, even though the home stopped testing after the first three cases were discovered.
The home was following a provincial policy – usually applied for influenza – that once the source of a viral outbreak in a facility is discovered, residents with symptoms are presumed to have it and should be cared for using appropriate infection-control protocols.
Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Barbara Yaffe, said on Tuesday that according to data obtained from the province’s integrated Public Health Information System, 10 long-term care homes in Ontario have outbreaks, leading to 11 deaths out of 33 in the province.
An outbreak is defined as one case in a home.
However, she cautioned that the data are not up to date.
Unlike some provinces, Ontario does not collect that data and publish it in one place. It leaves local public-health units and long-term care homes to make the information public.
The Globe surveyed numerous public-health units in Ontario on Monday and learned of 26 long-term care homes with at least one case of COVID-19. According to The Globe’s reporting, 17 residents had died of the virus as of Monday. The additional deaths at Pinecrest would bring the number to at least 20.
Dr. Yaffe said the province has recently put in place more “aggressive measures” for long-term care homes, with plans to increase screening and education for staff.
“Hopefully, we’ll pick up cases as quickly as possible and we’ll prevent spread as much as possible, but keeping in mind it’s a very … vulnerable population,” she said.
David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said the outbreak at Pinecrest in Bobcaygeon is the largest in the province, and health officials are looking to British Columbia, which has also had large outbreaks, for comparison.
He said each long-term care home has its own approach, from staffing to layout.
“Many things all play a part in here, and each long-term-care facility has its own uniqueness,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Minister of Long-Term Care, Merrilee Fullerton, said the government is working with ministry officials, the local public health unit and Extendicare Assist, a company that provides staffing for the long-term care sector, to help Pinecrest.
“Our government is seriously concerned about the situation at Pinecrest and we are working rapidly to support the home and others affected by COVID-19,” said spokeswoman Gillian Sloggett.
She said the home is closed to admissions and non-essential activities, with deep commercial cleaning taking place in care areas. The kitchen is closed and food is being brought in, and housekeeping and support staff are being redeployed to other duties, she said.
At his daily news conference at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford said the province’s recent creation of a $243-million fund for long-term care homes will lead to additional screening, cleaning and staffing. He said his mother-in-law is in long-term care, and he and his family have been unable to visit.
Mr. Ford said increased testing will be key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s critical that before patients get transferred … say from a hospital to long-term care, that they get tested and make sure that they’re isolated for two weeks,” he said.
“Anyone coming in and out of the facilities. … I’d highly recommend that we get those people tested as well. We have to protect our seniors at all costs.”
Ontario on Tuesday confirmed 1,966 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 260 from Monday. The province said 4,280 cases are currently under investigation and in the past 24 hours, results came in for 3,076 people.
A total of 51,629 people in Ontario have been tested so far.
Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.