Call for daily testing amid care-home outbreak; plan for boosters for most vulnerable

Call for daily testing amid care-home outbreak; plan for boosters for most vulnerable

As the number of people infected in a COVID-19 outbreak at a Vic West care home rose to 24, B.C.’s seniors advocate said residents and staff in seniors homes should receive rapid tests daily during outbreaks.

Eleven staff and 13 residents have tested positive at Sunset Lodge since the outbreak was declared on Friday. Affected residents are all on one floor and are showing no or mild symptoms, according to Island Health.

PCR tests, considered the gold standard, are done selectively during outbreaks and are typically not performed daily on all facility staff and residents.

At Sunset Lodge, COVID-19 testing is being expanded, but B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said more tools need to be employed during outbreaks in long-term care, where residents are more vulnerable.

As case counts continue to rise and autumn arrives with its typical increase in respiratory illness, Mackenzie is concerned that if more rigorous testing isn’t done in outbreaks, “we could potentially have a repeat of Wave Two.”

The province recorded 1,853 new cases of COVID-19 over the three days beginning Friday.

On Monday, there were 5,918 active cases across the province and seven COVID-19-­related deaths were reported from the weekend, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,814.

There were 18 outbreaks in health-care facilities province-wide — nine in long-term care, three in hospitals and six in assisted or independent living.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control reported three deaths resulting from an outbreak declared Aug. 11 at David Lloyd Jones seniors home in Interior Health, and another three as a result of an outbreak declared Aug. 2 at Cottonwoods Care Home in the same health authority.

Mackenzie argues the protection seniors received from COVID-19 vaccines in December and January is likely waning and booster shots have not yet been scheduled. While COVID-19 vaccines are effective, they are not 100 per cent effective, especially in the frail elderly, she said.

“We need to treat these outbreaks seriously and not just simply say the residents are mostly vaccinated and that will protect them, because we’re finding increasingly that the protection wanes over time and it’s been quite some time since some of these folks have been vaccinated,” said Mackenzie.

While infections haven’t resulted in the same degree of mortality as in the second wave, deaths could ramp up as protection from the vaccine wanes, she said. Israel is offering everyone over 12 booster shots, while Alberta and Ontario plan to offer booster shots to long-term care residents.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said health officials are concerned and will review the Sunset Lodge outbreak. The province has asked Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading the immunization effort, to determine when such a shot would be necessary, Dix said. The province is prepared to give out COVID-19 booster shots should they be required and recommended by public health, Dix said.

Dix said the COVID-19 booster shot is something health officials have been “preparing now for some time” both within and beyond the long-term care sector, and for people who are immunocompromised.

“So, we’re looking at that,” he told a news conference.

Admissions, transfers and social visits at Sunset Lodge, which is owned by the Salvation Army, are on hold because of the outbreak, and all employees must wear masks. Those deemed to be essential visitors are allowed to continue to visit residents.

On Aug. 12, the province announced that all health-care workers in private and public long-term care and assisted living homes must be double ­vaccinated by Oct. 12 as a ­condition of employment.

About 76 per cent of those eligible are fully ­vaccinated in B.C., said Dix.

— With The Canadian Press

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