HURON-PERTH – The number of positive COVID-19 cases across the region rose to 254 on Nov. 19, even as the number of active cases dropped to 48.
“That’s largely due to a cluster in Perth East and our contact tracing,” said Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron-Perth’s medical officer of health.
“We’re working on a large cluster there and sometimes by the time someone’s results are received they may have been resolved or close to resolved in terms of active illness.”
There are currently no active outbreaks in schools or childcare centres across the region and the outbreak at Knollcrest Lodge in Milverton has been declared over. There have been no further cases at Milverton Public School or outbreaks associated with this school exposure and the investigation is closed.
The outbreak at Cedarcroft Retirement Home in Stratford continues. Another resident who tested positive for COVID-19 passed away, bringing the total number of deaths related to the outbreak to nine.
There have been 43 residents of Cedarcroft test positive (30 are still active) and 19 staff (one remains active). Twenty-five residents have been decanted to area hospitals.
“These congregate settings of vulnerable populations are a place where the virus can transmit easily and it’s a difficult challenge,” said Klassen.
Andrew Williams, president and CEO of Huron-Perth Healthcare Alliance, said the issue throughout this outbreak has been helping to replace the Cedarcroft staff who were ill.
According to Bruce Lillie, regional marketing director and All Seniors Care Living Centres, 60 people work at Cedarcroft and half of the staff is still away from work.
“Two partner organizations are working closely with Cedarcroft,” said Williams. “One is the Southwest LHIN – the LHIN has seven staff currently deployed and available – and the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance, who have 16 staff currently deployed and available.”
He said the need for staff changes but there is an ongoing conversation with Cedarcroft leadership to eventually remove the replacement staff.
“I think it’s always a challenge to go back and pinpoint when should something have happened or when was the right time,” said Williams. “I think where we are now is what we are focusing on. The Cedarcroft staff have been working hard. Our staff have been … and we’re all focused on the same goal and that is to address the outbreak and move forward with the staffing plans they require.”
There has been a significant focus at Cedarcroft to ensure the right staff mix to provide services for the residents who are there.
“That was the driving force behind decanting over the weekend,” said Williams. “We’ve also had staff cohorts, so you have separate staff looking after those who are COVID positive and COVID negative.”
In response to questions regarding the different policies, procedures and legislative requirements between retirement homes and the long-term care sector, Jeff Renaud, Huron-Perth pandemic community lead, said retirement homes fall under the Ministry of Senior and Accessibility and long-term care falls under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Health.
“The requirements in a long-term care home are very stringent,” he said. “Long-term care is the second most regulated industry in Canada behind nuclear power.”
He said the difficulty in trying to regulate where residents should live is that people have the right to live at risk.
“It’s hard to balance a resident’s right to live at risk with underlying health issues and telling that person they have to move into long-term care,” said Renaud. “That is something we struggle with and maybe it is time to look at more stringent requirements for retirement home living but those people live independently. They are allowed to come and go as they want and they have a right to do that.”
Klassen thinks Huron-Perth is under consideration to be moved into the orange – restrict for Ontario’s COVID-19 restrictions.
“I think when you look at factors like what is happening in neighbouring regions … and you look at the number of people who are in the hospital right now due to decanting, I think those are all factors which speak in favour of moving to orange,” she said.
“Our numbers are largely driven by two factors. One is Cedarcroft and one is the outbreak in Perth East but we’ve all seen how quickly that can suddenly escalate and spread into the community.”
The way the provincial framework works is the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health looks at the data weekly and where there is consideration of an area or health unit region might move up there are discussions with the Ministry of Health and the local health unit.
“At the same time I am reaching out to municipal partners and leaders and seeking their feedback,” said Klassen. “All of that is discussed but ultimately it is the Chief Medical Officer of Health who makes a recommendation to cabinet and it’s cabinet who makes the final decision. I did recommend they strongly consider moving us into orange.”
Klassen said the biggest challenge right now in Ontario is transmission in households and socializing.
“I get it – we’ve been at this for eight months and we’d all like to get this behind us but we need to keep going,” she said. “There is a vaccine on the horizon that will allow us to create more immunity. Particularly I’m imagining the strategy will be to start with more vulnerable people and then they can’t get as sick but that’s all going to take time so we’re still in this for the foreseeable future and we need to continue to follow Public Health measures and if we don’t we’re going to see a rapid escalation of cases and clusters like what we’re seeing in Perth East. Those will spill into schools. Those will spill into our vulnerable settings eventually.”
Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.