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Fourth death tied to Cedarcroft outbreak as COVID-19 cases rise across Huron-Perth

HURON-PERTH – An additional 16 positive cases of COVID-19 were announced on Nov. 12 bringing the cumulative total for the Huron-Perth region to 222 since the being of the pandemic.

“I will note the 16 did not come in the past 24 hours,” said Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron-Perth’s medical officer of health. “Some were from the day or two previous because of some issues with data cleaning secondary to the fact we had such a busy weekend. It took us a little bit to catch up.”

There are currently 61 active cases, 40 of which are part of the outbreak at Cedarcroft Retirement Home in Stratford. Of the other 21 cases in the community, seven are linked to the Cedarcroft outbreak and the rest are in various municipalities across Huron-Perth. One of the community cases is still in the hospital.

“Some are epi-linked to other confirmed cases, some are travel-related and others are being investigated,” said Klassen. “However you look at it though, the key thing is the second wave has arrived. Cases are increasing in Huron and Perth. This is not just a Toronto issue.”

Klassen said it’s now more important than ever for people to follow the Public Health guidance to help limit the spread of the virus.

“As we’re doing our case investigations we’re finding more and more often people are going to work sick and not following recommendations about distancing and that is contributing to the spread,” said Klassen.

“However you look at it though, the key thing is the second wave has arrived. Cases are increasing in Huron and Perth. This is not just a Toronto issue.” – Dr. Miriam Klassen

The outbreak at Cedarcroft is not yet contained.

“We have had 36 residents at Cedarcroft who have tested positive since the start of the outbreak and, unfortunately, we have learned of another passing of a Cedarcroft resident who had tested positive for COVID-19,” she said. “Our thoughts are with the resident’s family and friends and everyone at the facility who is going through this very difficult time. This sadly means a total of four residents have passed during this outbreak.”

Two residents are currently hospitalized, one of whom is in ICU. Two other residents have recovered. Of the 15 staff who have tested positive, five have recovered.

“In terms of test results, we continue to test any symptomatic residents and staff and will also be conducting another complete round of testing on any residents and staff who have not already tested positive based on Public Health Ontario recommendations around outbreaks such as this,” said Klassen.

Responding to this outbreak continues to be the main priority for Huron Perth Public Health and many other health care partners who are assisting Cedarcroft with the response to the outbreak, primarily with staffing assistance.

“Huron-Perth Pandemic Response Triad, the Southwest Pandemic Response Triad, particularly the Huron-Perth Healthcare Alliance, Southwest Local Health Initiative Network and Ontario Health West and again our EMS partners have helped us with testing and infection control specialists from Huron-Perth Healthcare Alliance is currently on-site working with the staff and so all of these partners are helping to assist Cedarcroft retirement home in managing their outbreak,” said Klassen.

“We’re all working with the same goal in mind: to keep the more vulnerable members of our communities, our families and our friends safe. Unfortunately, the extent of transmission in this facility is an illustration of how easily this virus transmits among our most vulnerable residents.”

Although Klassen said all options are being considered, she said it is not likely that residents would be moved to another location such as the Stratford General Hospital.

“The thing is the preferred option in a congregate setting is to keep people in place and provide the support needed for them to continue in their home,” she said. “You can imagine when you move people you are disrupting their lives … and you are also increasing the risk of spreading the infection to other places and you need to find staff for wherever you are moving them.”

She said the biggest challenge is staffing and it has been a challenge for many facilities – hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes – across the province during the pandemic because everyone is competing for the same personal support workers, nursing staff and cleaning staff.

“When there is an outbreak the needs go up and often… when staff get sick the number of available staff go down,” said Klassen. “To find the staff to support people is a big challenge but moving them doesn’t mean you don’t need staff.”

Knollcrest Lodge in Milverton is still in outbreak although an asymptomatic staff worker is still the only positive case. The first round of prevalence testing in residents came back with all negative results.

“We’re not aware of anyone developing symptoms or any additional cases at this point and all the outbreak measures are in place,” said Klassen. “(An outbreak is considered over) two weeks after the last exposure – so one incubation period – and during that time you are looking for people who develop symptoms and testing them very carefully.”

Two schools in the Avon Maitland District Schoolboard have reported cases: Milverton Public School and Shakespeare Public School in Stratford, but neither school is in an outbreak.

“An outbreak would be evidence of transmission at the school so that would be two or more cases connected in time or space,” said Klassen. “There are some schools in urban centres where there is more than one case but there is no connection between them. In general, it’s when the investigation supports the transmission happened at school.”

When asked whether she thought employers should be asked to discourage employees from travelling to work from high-risk areas of the province, Klassen said she would not recommend that at this time, but she did advise non-essential travel be suspended as much as possible, particularly for social events.

“I further recommend though, that workplaces follow all the Public Health guidance,” she said. “The recent updates to the regulation include things around active screening, masking, physical distancing and making a safety plan. It’s very important every workplace do that. I said from the start of the pandemic there is no single agency, person or government level that can manage this pandemic. It is a shared responsibility across individuals, families, organizations, levels of government – everyone has to do their part so all workplaces are strongly encouraged to review the legislation and the guidance in our toolkits and to implement all the measures in there.”

Klassen said she doesn’t envy our government leaders for having to take the responsibility to find the right balance when they are introducing new guidance for the province.

“Time will tell with this new framework,” she said. “It does worry me that Ontario numbers are so high … I think if it does continue to work in such a way that case counts remain high then from my own Public Health perspective … we’re going to need enough resources to continue case and contact management because we see that case and contact management is effective.”

She said many of the recent cases across the region were people who were already identified as high-risk contacts and isolated

“Because that happened we know now the chain of transmission ends with them because they haven’t been going out spreading it to anyone else,” said Klassen. “This is new to everybody, so I don’t want to speculate what is going to happen with this framework but … the things I’m looking for is that our hospital capacity is not exceeded, that Health Unit capacity is not exceeded locally.”

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.