The dangerous sneak thief that is COVID-19 has again infiltrated Heritage Lodge Long Term Care Home.
On Wednesday, Revera — the Ontario-based owner of Heritage Lodge — announced a resident had tested positive for the highly contagious B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant.
A positive case of the novel coronavirus had been confirmed with a staff member March 10, and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority declared an outbreak. The next day, all residents on the first floor of the two-storey facility were to be tested.
Two days later, the results public health officials most feared came back: the staff member was positive for the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
It's not the Winnipeg care home's first outbreak: on Sept. 23, 2020, a resident, who was asymptomatic, tested positive.
Before the outbreak was declared over Jan. 15, 22 residents and 16 staff members had tested positive.
Six residents died.
This time, most residents not only have an ace up their sleeves but in their arms — they've already received the required two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
"I have the vaccination," said Marjorie Tyler, 95, on a phone call while isolating in her room.
"I was one of the first to get the vaccine here because I'm 95. And I've already had it twice. I do feel good about it. And, because of the vaccine, I feel very comfortable even with the outbreak here.
"I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want (the vaccine), but I know some said they didn't want it."
Most Heritage Lodge residents agreed to be vaccinated by provincial teams visiting the facility, but not everyone.
Meanwhile, according to Revera in a statement Wednesday: "Vaccinations for staff are ongoing."
It's not known whether the resident who tested positive for the U.K. variant had been vaccinated.
The WRHA told the Free Press that 24 residents at Heritage Lodge were retested for COVID-19 on Tuesday, after their initial results came back negative. A spokesman said the retesting was planned even before the U.K. variant was found, because public health recommended they be screened again 10 days after the potential exposure.
Results are pending.
The spokesman said officials are closely monitoring staffing levels at the 80-bed facility, and a pool of nurses is on standby to fill in any gaps, if needed, through a central staffing office.
"The facility has implemented appropriate infection control and outbreak measures," he said. "A WRHA clinical lead continues to support the site, and the situation currently remains stable."
Tyler, who is now an isolation veteran at the care home, having already spent the better part of four months in her room starting last September, said the first outbreak occurred on the second floor of the facility.
This one is on the main floor, where her room is located.
"(However) I feel very safe," she said. "This is a wonderful place.
"Right now, I am isolated. I can't go out of my room. I have my meals in my room. I have to wear a mask when someone comes here."
Staff members visit Tyler twice a day just to monitor for COVID symptoms, as per public health protocol.
If Tyler was able to leave her room, she would see other changes in place now that the facility is back in outbreak status.
Staff are being screened for the virus at the start and end of work shifts, getting an antigen test every week. They have to wear a face mask and eye protection on duty, and enhanced cleaning protocols are in effect.
Residents on both floors are currently confined to their rooms.
For the time being, Shared Health has told the Winnipeg care home to cancel general visits, while essential visits for palliative residents and from designated family caregivers will begin again once contact tracing is completed.
Tyler's daughter, Theresa Hooper, says she feels much more relieved this time around, knowing her mother has been vaccinated.
"It makes me feel better," Hooper said from B.C. "And they are very good at keeping family informed. They inform us by email and by phone call. And, during the outbreak (announcement), there was a taped call that went to everyone at 5 p.m.
"It is a variant, so I'm a little concerned — but I'm not as concerned as I was before she was vaccinated."
A local union representing personal care home workers, including those at Heritage Lodge, said Revera needs to make the safety of residents and staff a priority.
"Now that a new COVID variant is present in our community, we need to continue being extremely vigilant and ensure every precaution is taken to avoid a repeat of last fall," Shannon McAteer, CUPE health-care co-ordinator, said in a statement to the Free Press.
COVID-19 outbreaks were also declared Wednesday at two other Winnipeg personal care homes: River East and Extendicare/Oakview Place. Both are managed by Extendicare; a representative for the company didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
For a few short weeks in between outbreaks at Heritage Lodge, Tyler said she could go out of her room and eat in the cafeteria, on rotation. "We could go down every other day," she said.
Tyler said she is in a two-bedroom suite, but has been its lone occupant for months. "I had a roommate, but she died months ago. It wasn't anything to do with COVID."
Meanwhile, Tyler said she is grateful to the people who are working hard to keep residents safe.
"I don't know what I'd do without the staff," she said. "They are all very friendly. I can't say enough about them — especially with what they are going through now."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.