COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes as some staff remain unvaccinated

TORONTO — Two long-term care homes in Ontario are dealing with COVID-19 cases within their facilities, even as the vast majority of residents are fully vaccinated, leading loved ones to point to unvaccinated staff as the possible root issue.

At Centre d’accueil Champlain in Ottawa, 97 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, but 29 staff members and seven residents have since tested positive for the virus, as health officials have confirmed a B.1.1.7 variant outbreak at the facility.

In a memo sent to Ottawa city council on Wednesday, Donna Gray, Ottawa’s general manager of community and social services, said that some of the people to have tested positive for the virus were fully immunized, though it’s unclear how many.

“The home remains on facility-wide outbreak,” Gray wrote in the memo. “At the current time, all individuals are stable.”

While the vast majority of residents are fully vaccinated, as of mid-May just 71 per cent of employees have taken at least one dose of the vaccine.

“A lot of people don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s not okay,” Danielle Galipeau, whose 87-year-old mother Jacqueline lives at the care home, told CTV News.

“For me, I would say: ‘You don’t want to get vaccinated, well, you’re working with old people.’”

The Centre d’accueil Champlain isn’t the only long-term care home experiencing another COVID-19 outbreak. The Fairhaven facility in Peterborough, Ont. has seen one resident and two staff members test positive for the virus recently, marking the fourth outbreak at the care home since the start of the pandemic.

The resident is fully vaccinated, but only one of the staff members received one dose, leading Sinai Health geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall to advocate for expanding vaccines to long-term care home employees.

“Many of the outbreaks are being caused by staff that are bringing in the virus from the community unknowingly and through no fault of their own,” he told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday.

“So this is another opportunity where we can shore up an additional line of defence, by maximizing vaccination among staff members.”

OUTBREAKS SPARK DEBATE OVER MANDATORY VACCINATIONS

To curb the spread of COVID-19 at Centre d’accueil Champlain, Ottawa Public Health is hosting a staff vaccination clinic later this week, but the debate is growing about whether vaccines should be mandatory for people working in these positions.

However, some experts warn that in certain workplaces where the workforce includes many people from marginalized communities, mandatory vaccines could do more harm than good.

“We have to instill vaccine confidence by providing them with language-specific information, culturally safe information and making sure we provide the vaccine to them,” said Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care doctor and assistant clinical professor in the Division of Palliative Care at McMaster University in Hamilton.

In other settings, mandatory vaccines are starting to become the norm. At Western University in London, Ont., one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for anyone wishing to live in its residences this September, with few exceptions.

“No one’s forcibly putting a vaccine into your arm,” said Maxwell Smith, assistant professor of Health Studies at Western. “These are the conditions, so if you want to attend residence and live in residence, then this would be a requirement.”

Meanwhile, for loved ones of those living at the Centre d’accueil Champlain, sending a older loved one back into isolation has been a gut-wrenching proposition.

“For them it must be hard, they have no activities,” Galipeau said. “We used to take her down to restaurants and get together and talk to people, now there is nobody to talk to.”

“She’s OK now, but she’s down. She is used to going out and chatting with people.”

With files from CTV News Ottawa and CTV News Toronto

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