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After tallying 13 deaths and 80 COVID-19 infections in Winnipeg personal care homes, the province is imposing critical restrictions on all such facilities in the city.
The strictest pandemic response rules that exist under Manitoba's colour-coded system now must be followed in all Winnipeg-area personal care homes, which were designated Thursday as critical (red level) by chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
However, more extreme measures may be yet to come.
"I don't think I would take anything off the table, but I can't speak specifically to that," Roussin told reporters Thursday, after he was asked whether Manitoba would consider calling in the Canadian Forces or the Red Cross to deal with outbreaks in personal care homes, as some regions have done.
To date, nine people have died and 55 residents and staff have tested positive at Parkview Place long-term care home — the deadliest novel coronavirus outbreak among such facilities in the province.
The privately operated Winnipeg home has already been under critical (red) restrictions since mid-September. Roussin couldn't give specifics about what caused the virus to spread so quickly within Parkview Place, but noted most of the positive cases were contracted at the same time.
"It's absolutely concerning — and we knew in the first wave that we have to do whatever we can to keep this virus out of these situations. Because once it's in, we can see transmission easily and then, obviously, severe outcomes in this population," said Roussin, who noted Parkview Place is a large facility, which could account for the large number of cases.
"But I don't think there's anything specific to that personal care home that I could comment on that's driving transmission more than what we would see elsewhere."
Public health officials typically don't enter personal care homes to make sure outbreak restrictions are being followed, Roussin said. Those kinds of inspections are supposed to be conducted by the respective regional health authorities.
Parkview Place staff didn't have access to proper personal protective equipment until this week, according to their union, which filed a grievance Oct. 9 to get N95 respirators for all employees working with COVID-19-positive residents.
Ontario-based Revera Inc. also agreed to give Parkview staff a $2/hr pay raise until the outbreak is over (retroactive to Sept. 15), after a Wednesday meeting with representatives of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2039.
Shannon McAteer, health-care co-ordinator for CUPE in Manitoba, said personal care homes in general, and Parkview Place in particular, are dealing with critically low levels of staff.
"We're in a staffing crisis. The workers — I'll use Parkview as an example, right now — they are overwhelmed, they are scared, they are working short, they're exhausted, they're not getting breaks because... they have to care for too many residents... It's taking a huge psychological, emotional and physical toll on the front-line workers," McAteer said Thursday.
Revera, which runs several other private care homes in Manitoba, did not return repeated requests for comment.
In a notice posted on its website, the company states staff and residents are being monitored for COVID-19 symptoms and isolated if they have them. Masks and appropriate protective gear are required for all staff, it states.
Across the province, there have been 17 deaths and 90 COVID-19 infections linked to personal care homes.
As part of the critical restrictions, no visitors will be allowed in such Winnipeg region facilities unless considered essential.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
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