Sandra MacKinnon felt absolutely horrible when she found out she likely brought the novel coronavirus into her Nanaimo, B.C., retirement home last month.
The 78-year-old former nurse had invited three friends and fellow residents of the Longlake Chateau into her room to play Scrabble on a recent Wednesday morning. The group – all vaccinated a couple weeks earlier – had a blast, letting their guards down to play the board game for two hours.
At the time, Ms. MacKinnon had unknowingly contracted the virus somehow and she now attributes that March 17 rendezvous to her inflicting the current COVID-19 outbreak that has infected seven of the 124 other seniors in the facility.
“I felt so guilty – it’s pretty obvious because it’s all my close friends,” Ms. MacKinnon told The Globe and Mail during a recent conference call organized by Atria, the Kentucky-based retirement home chain that owns and operates the facility.
Though the March 8 vaccination of almost all the residents and staff at the facility couldn’t stop these eight people from contracting the virus, their higher levels of immunity meant most of them tested positive without even feeling sick and no one has been hospitalized.
Ms. MacKinnon’s bronchitis-like bout with the virus could be the most severe range of symptoms experienced by anyone there so far, with Cam Johnson, a vice-president overseeing Atria’s Western Canadian operations, saying the others had just mild symptoms – if they felt sick at all.
Residents are still quarantining until the outbreak is set to be lifted by the Vancouver Island Health Authority next Tuesday, he said. The facility will further relax some of its stricter physical distancing rules once workers and people living there get their second dose in June, but everyone is very happy that the outbreak was effectively blunted by the vaccine, Mr. Johnson said.
“[It] has given us great confidence that the immunity built from just a single dose is just so highly effective,” he said.
The events at Longlake Chateau echo the heartening contours of current outbreaks and the overall downturn in these events across B.C.’s nursing and retirement homes since the province first began vaccinating residents and staff in December.
Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.’s Seniors Advocate, an independent watchdog who reports to the provincial Health Ministry, said cases in these facilities have fallen by 75 per cent from two months ago.
“You know it’s the vaccines because we haven’t seen the corresponding decrease in the community cases,” said Ms. Mackenzie, who worked in the long-term care sector before taking on her current role. “What we’ve got in long-term care is a microcosm of what we hope the community at large will be like.”
Ms. MacKinnon said she only found out she had contracted the virus because she was told to get tested by a screener at the local hospital who was running through a COVID-19 questionnaire in advance of a medical procedure. She had assumed her deep cough and stuffed-up sinuses was bronchitis, which she had battled several times before.
“What they heard was alarm about COVID, which never crossed my mind to be honest,” said Ms. MacKinnon, who lives in a region that has fared better during the pandemic than many others in the province.
She still has the odd deep cough, but is no longer contagious and is spending her quarantine knitting, reading and enjoying her new-found hobby of drawing. She has not been told her case involved a variant of concern or where she may have contracted the virus. She assumes her habit of chewing her fingernails got her into trouble whilst out running a daily errand somewhere in Nanaimo.
Ms. MacKinnon continues to feel ashamed about the outbreak, but is thankful that her tight-knit community wasn’t decimated by the virus. Asked about the value of the vaccines, she said: “[Speaking] as a retired nurse, you should take it any chance you’ve got, even if you don’t think it’s going to help, it’s not going to hurt.”
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