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Manitoba's first long-term care home with a possible coronavirus outbreak has people in Gimli and provincial health officials on high alert.
A health-care worker at the lakeside town's Betel Home has tested positive for COVID-19 while nine residents are showing symptoms of respiratory illness, said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer.
Since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Canada on Jan. 27, officials repeatedly warned that the elderly and those living in personal-care homes could be at high risk to contract coronavirus. It's now estimated more than 600 care homes across the country have been affected.
In Gimli, all the residents with symptoms at the two-storey facility with 80 private rooms have been tested for COVID-19, Roussin said. The care-home worker tested positive Wednesday.
Roussin also confirmed that a positive case of COVID-19 was identified at Winnipeg's Riverview Health Centre in response to a reporter's question. In that case, an outbreak was prevented because of measures taken by the facility, he said.
Roussin has stated repeatedly that he will release information about reported COVID-19 cases only when there is a public-health benefit. "Because of the very strict social-distancing strategies that were in place there, in fact, (were) no other clients exposed," he said of the Riverview case without providing any further information.
"That investigation is done."
He said the Gimli care home has put in place infection controls and prevention processes to isolate affected patients and prevent further spread.
"We will be monitoring this situation closely," he said.
As will others in the town.
"It is a big concern because of their ages," said RM of Gimli Mayor Lynn Greenberg. "That goes for any personal care home with seniors in it."
"It is a big concern because of their ages. That goes for any personal care home with seniors in it." – RM of Gimli Mayor Lynn Greenberg
Since Canada's first major outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, COVID-19 has appeared in more than 600 care homes in Canada and in more than 400 in the U.S. There have been at least 75 known COVID-19 deaths in Canada among residents of long-term care homes, the Globe and Mail reported.
An outbreak at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont. has killed 14 residents and one visiting spouse, and infected at least 24 staff members as of Thursday.
Greenberg said he has seen the news reports about fatalities in personal-care homes and does not want Gimli to become the next Bobcaygeon.
"We're very concerned but it's not time to panic," the mayor said Thursday. "We just have to let the people in charge of the agencies do their jobs."
Volunteers in the community of 6,100 have been delivering prescriptions and groceries to those who need help and everyone he sees is practising social distancing. Greenberg said he has faith in public-health officials and the staff and volunteer board that runs the non-profit Betel Home, which operates 171 personal care home beds in Gimli and Selkirk.
Johnson Memorial Hospital in Gimli is ready to care for COVID-19 patients, a provincial government spokesman said.
"All health regions and all health facilities have planned for a wide range of eventualities, including the Johnson Memorial Hospital in Gimli," he said in an email. Gimli is 90 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
On March 17, when the first presumptive positive COVID-19 cases were reported in Manitoba, Shared Health sent a letter to Betel Home in Gimli and other long-term care homes in Manitoba advising that access to visitors was being suspended to keep the residents safe.
"Public-health officials, health-system leaders, facilities, providers and staff are taking all necessary steps to decrease the risk of spread of the virus," the letter said. "Across Manitoba, strict infection prevention and control precautions are now in place in all health-care settings, including long-term care facilities. For the safety of your loved ones, and upon the recommendation of public-health officials, we are immediately suspending visitor access to long-term care facilities across Manitoba."
On Thursday, staff at the Betel Home were either self-isolating or self-monitoring depending on their exposure to the worker who tested positive. Across the province, staff working in acute-care and long-term care facilities were being screened before their shifts began by having their temperature taken and being asked questions about their travel history and exposure to COVID-19.
In the coming days, requirements for expanded personal protective gear such as gowns, masks and gloves will be expanded to include all workers in patient-care roles, Shared Health's chief of nursing Lanette Siragusa said Thursday at the daily media briefing alongside Roussin.
"If we all do our part we can interrupt transmission of this virus," Roussin said, urging Manitobans to practise social distancing and to stay home.
"Stay home if you're having any symptoms — including health care workers — stay home when you're ill."
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