Vancouver’s health authority issued an order Saturday that bans most visitors to long-term care homes and prohibits staff and volunteers from working at more than one facility, as public-health officials work to contain an outbreak that has already hit three care homes in the region and killed nine residents at a single facility.
The order applies to all licensed long-term care facilities in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority region, including the Lynn Valley Care Centre, which has accounted for all but one of B.C.'s 10 COVID-19 fatalities. Other health regions in the province were expected to follow suit with similar orders.
The Lynn Valley Care Centre had already taken steps to protect staff and residents since March 7, when an outbreak was declared, such as restricting visitors and serving meals in residents’ rooms, rather than in communal dining areas.
The Globe and Mail reported Saturday that rumours of an outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, where the average age for residents is 87, circulated among employees for at least 24 hours before the Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced the outbreak. The outbreak has highlighted potential risks in the long-term care sector, including workers who supplement low wages by working at more than one location, increasing the risk of transmission.
The new order requires facilities “to deny access to all visitors to the facility, with the limited exception of the immediate family members and spiritual advisor of residents who are clinically assessed to be at the end of their lives,” Vancouver Coastal Health said Saturday in a news release. The restriction on staff working at multiple facilities does not apply to doctors, paramedics and lab technicians.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said other regional health authorities, including Fraser Health and Vancouver Island Health, would soon issue similar orders.
As of Saturday, B.C. reported 76 new cases, for a total of 424 across the province, and 10 deaths. A total of 55 residents and workers are reported infected at Lynn Valley Care Centre.
In Ontario, Hamilton Public Health Services declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek after two cases — both involving residents — were confirmed at the facility. Alberta confirmed one case a long-term care facility but Dr. Marcia Johnson, the province’s deputy chief medical officer of health, declined to provide details, citing patient confidentiality.
Dr. Henry acknowledged that some medical professionals and health-care workers are concerned about their own safety in light of the outbreak, including whether they will have access to personal protective equipment.
“We do have sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, we do have those in place now,” Dr. Henry said. “And we will ensure we have everything that we need as we’re going forward with this."
The restrictions at care homes were among several additional measures announced in B.C. on Saturday.
The province ordered “personal care” businesses such as hair salons, tattoo shops and massage parlors to close, due to the contact between workers and customers.
B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the government will be announcing a package of measures for renters early this week, recognizing that layoffs and business closings are hitting people’s incomes.
“We don’t want anyone evicted during this very difficult time," Ms. Robinson said.
BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay said the province is looking to use hotels, motels, temporary modular housing and community centres if people who are homeless or otherwise vulnerable need to self-isolate.
Also on Saturday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart called on the provincial and federal governments to do more to help vulnerable people living in the city’s Downtown Eastside, pointing to protection and testing for front-line workers as particular concerns.
Dr. Henry said the province has a working group focused on the neighbourhood.
“It’s a challenge, we know — people have many needs in that community," she said. “And making sure those needs are met, and we’re not causing undue harm, is a balancing act."
With files from Frances Bula