UPDATED: Once preventable virus now “inevitable” as it sweeps through community, senior homes: MOH

Sign on the front door of Afton Park Place, which is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. Journal Photo

Tara Jeffrey

COVID-19 is once again spreading through local senior homes and that has Lambton’s medical officer of health concerned.

“We are paying very close attention to this,” Dr. Sudit Ranade said last week after dozens of residents and staff tested positive at seven long-term care homes and one retirement home.

“I do expect this to sort of take off. I expect there to be lots and lots of cases,” he said.

The outbreaks began in December and were the first reported in long-term care facilities since July.

“The best protection that we have is the immunization status of those residents, and beyond that, some of them actually are going to end up in the hospital. They are going to end up sick, they may not make it through this — and I’m concerned about that.”

Impacted homes as of last week included Rosewood Retirement Village, Vision Nursing Home, Fiddick’s Nursing Home, Sumac Lodge, Afton Park Place, Marshall Gowland Manor, Trillium Villa and Watford Quality Care.

“All of these facilities have actually been doing their utmost over the last two years to try to get a handle on COVID-19 and prevent transmission within their facilities to a group of people who are incredibly vulnerable to severe disease by virtue of their age, and by virtue of their frailty,” said Ranade.

“We know that getting two or three doses [of vaccine] is a good protection against being hospitalized, so I’m hopeful that protection will persist in these people.”

Across Ontario, at least 4,040 long-term care residents and 10 frontline workers have died of COVID.

Ranade said vulnerable residents include those over age 70 and those who remain unvaccinated.

“If you’re over 70 and unvaccinated — that’s a double whammy,” he said.

“I’m also concerned about the impact that this realization over the next few months is going to have on people. We’ve been trying so hard for the last two years to do everything we possibly could to not get this — and the risk profile on this virus has changed from preventable, to inevitable,” he said.

“How do we get people around to this realization in a way that helps them be resilient through it, rather than a way that makes them think all is lost? That’s the thing that keeps me up at night right now.”

The health unit reported its first lab-confirmed case of the Omicron variant last week, but Ranade warned the highly transmissible variant is circulating “widely” and the reported cases are a substantial underestimate of the actual number.

“That is going to move very, very quickly through the population, regardless of the restrictions that are in place.”

The Intensive Care Unit at Bluewater Health is at 93% occupancy, with COVID patients occupying 10 of the 14 beds. The medical unit is running at 106% occupancy, with a total of 35 COVID patients in the hospital, Chief of Staff Dr. Mike Haddad said today.

Ontario has enacted public health measures to slow COVID-19 hospitalizations including capacity limits, closure of many indoor settings, and a move to online learning.

“It’s very likely that these restrictions may have some effect on slowing things down, but this is no longer about stopping the virus … it’s actually about delaying exposure to the virus,” Ranade said.

Bluewater Health issued a letter last week pleading with the community to follow public health guidelines and get vaccinated after the number of COVID-positive patients in hospital more than quadrupled. Critically ill patients with COVID pneumonia occupied more than half of the Intensive Care Unit.

“Our situation today… is the most worrisome yet,” stated the letter from CEO Mike Lapaine and chief of staff Dr. Mike Haddad.

“Most patients with severe COVID disease are not vaccinated yet and we are having end-of-life discussions with families of patients in all age categories — not just older ages.”