Tag Archives: residents

Cruise ship races to evacuate residents from Caribbean island of St. Vincent as volcano threatens to erupt

Authorities in the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent have ordered mandatory evacuations on Thursday, saying they believe an active volcano is in danger of exploding.

The island’s emergency management office switched the alert level to red and said the first cruise line will in the next few hours evacuate those who live near La Soufrière volcano. It was not immediately clear how many people would be evacuated, where the ship would take them or if they would remain temporarily aboard.

Roughly 16,000 people live in the red zone and will need to be evacuated, Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press.

Evacuation efforts could be hampered by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told a news conference that people have to be vaccinated if they go aboard a cruise ship or are granted temporary refuge in other nearby islands.

‘An emergency situation’

He said two Royal Caribbean cruise ships are expected to arrive by Friday and a third one in the coming days, as well as two Carnival cruise ships by Friday. Islands that have said they would accept evacuees include St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua.

“Not everything is going to go perfect, but if we all co-operate … we will come through this stronger than ever,” Gonsalves said.

He said he was talking to other Caribbean governments to accept people’s ID cards if they don’t have a passport.

“This is an emergency situation, and everybody understands that,” he said.

Gonsalves added that he highly recommends those who opt to go to a shelter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an island chain of more than 100,000 people, be vaccinated.

Joseph said emergency management teams have been going out to communities in the red zone and providing transportation to safer locations, including prearranged shelters.

“They know who doesn’t have transportation because all of this has been canvassed before,” she said, adding that those who board the cruise ship would not be taken elsewhere but would remain there for an unspecified period of time.

Officials said the dome of the volcano located on the island’s northern region could be seen glowing by nightfall. The alert issued Thursday evening follows days of seismic activity around La Soufrière.

Volcano could erupt in hours or days

Gonsalves urged people to remain calm and orderly.

“I don’t want you panicked,” he said. “That is the worst thing to do.”

Scientists alerted the government about a possible eruption after noting a specific type of seismic activity at 3 a.m. local time on Thursday that indicated “magma was on the move close to the surface,” Joseph said.

“Things are escalating pretty quickly,” she said of the volcanic activity, adding that it was impossible to provide an exact forecast of what might happen in the next few hours or days.

A team from the seismic centre arrived in St. Vincent in late December after the volcano had an effusive eruption. They have been analyzing the formation of a new volcanic dome, changes to its crater lake, seismic activity and gas emissions, among other things.

The volcano last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.

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CBC | World News

What’s causing N.B.’s mystery neurological disease? Worried residents want answers

News this week that a cluster of more than 40 cases of an unknown neurological disease have been identified and found only in New Brunswick has residents of several communities on edge.

The mystery illness has similarities to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal brain disease.

First diagnosed in 2015, according to an internal Public Health memo sent this month to medical professionals, the disease affects all age groups and appears to be concentrated in the Acadian Peninsula in northeast New Brunswick and the Moncton region in the southeast.

Forty-three cases have been identified, and five people have died.

Since that news was reported on Wednesday, people in those communities have been wondering how alarmed they should be.  

“People are wondering, what is it? Why is it only here? We are hoping that somebody will tell us,” Anita Savoie Robichaud, the mayor of Shippagan, a town on the peninsula, said Friday.

Bertrand Mayor Yvon Godin says residents are ‘very, very worried’ about the disease identified in the Acadian Peninsula and Moncton area. (Radio-Canada)

Yvon Godin, the mayor of Bertrand, a village further north on the peninsula, who also chairs the Forum of Acadian Peninsula Mayors, agrees.

“We are very, very worried about it,” Godin said. “Residents are anxious, they’re asking ‘Is it moose meat? Is it deer? Is it contagious?’ We need to know, as fast as possible, what is causing this disease.”

Dr. Neil Cashman understands the concern.

Cashman, a professor in the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine, is a neurologist with a special expertise in prion diseases — a group of neurodegenerative diseases caused by proteinaceous infectious particles, or prions — including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

When Cashman first heard about the cases in New Brunswick, he says his first thought was, “We have a problem on our hands.”

Clearly, he said, “this was a call to arms to identify the cause.”

Those efforts are already underway.

Teams of researchers, scientists and epidemiologists began assembling about a year ago, both at the national level at Health Canada’s Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance System, to which Cashman is acting as an adviser, and at the provincial level with a research team headed by Moncton neurologist Dr. Alier Marrero.

Having this news put under “the active scrutiny of the public” this week has been a good thing, Cashman said, because it has pulled in clinical and scientific expertise from across Canada.

“There are people offering to help, and these people would not be doing that unless they were aware of this cluster.”

But their work is just beginning.

‘This is something new’

Cashman has a pretty good idea what this mystery disease is not.

All the evidence, he said, points to this not being a prion disease such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. 

“There is no evidence, not a hint — even in the three autopsies that have been performed — of a human prion disease. That came as a surprise to me, frankly,” he said. “So in essence, this is something new, and we need to get on the stick and figure out what this is.”

Cashman said he’s tapping into his expertise in neurology and environmental toxins to look for other explanations.

The fact that the cases are limited to certain regions “fits with the notion of an environmental toxin,” he said.

A possible culprit might be B-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), an environmental toxin made by certain bacteria that can accumulate in fish and shellfish.

Domoic acid, another toxin produced by bacteria and that accumulates in shellfish, sardines and anchovies, is another possibility. So is lead, which can be responsible for clusters of neurodegeneration.

Dr. Neil Cashman, an expert in neurology, says an environmental toxin could be the cause. (Submitted by Neil Cashman)

“All of these are speculation at this point,” Cashman stressed. “A lot of scientific acumen will be required to pin it down to a cause.”

That will take time, and no one can say for sure how long.

“It’s possible ongoing investigations will give us the cause in a week, or it’s possible it will give us the cause in a year,” he said.

“There’s no sensible timeline I can provide on when we’ll have an answer. It’s just something that has to be the focus of scientific attention, and as rapidly as possible.”

In the meantime, he said, he’d advise residents to continue doing what they have been doing, try not to be consumed by anxiety and have faith that a solution will be found.

“I know it sounds like a tired statement, but I would say stay calm, carry on,” he said. “We’ve got to figure it out and the Public Health Agency of Canada is in a good position to do that and come up with a cause … and then of course it can be ameliorated.”

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CBC | Health News

Power restored to more Texas residents, but water crisis persists during deep freeze

Power was restored to more homes and businesses in Texas on Thursday after a deadly blast of winter this week overwhelmed the electrical grid and left millions shivering in the cold. But the crisis is far from over, with many people still in need of safe drinking water.

Fewer than a half million homes remained without electricity, although utility officials said limited rolling blackouts could still occur.

The storms also left more than 320,000 homes and businesses without power in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. About 70,000 power outages persisted after an ice storm in eastern Kentucky, while nearly 67,000 were without electricity in West Virginia.

And more than 100,000 customers remained without power Thursday in Oregon, a week after a massive snow and ice storm. Maria Pope, the CEO of Portland General Electric, said she expects power to be restored by Friday night to more than 90 per cent of the customers still in the dark.

Meanwhile, snow and ice moved into the Appalachians, northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, and later the Northeast. Back-to-back storms left 38 centimetres of snow in Little Rock, Ark., tying a 1918 record, the National Weather Service said.

The extreme weather has been blamed for the deaths of at least 40 people, some while trying to keep warm. In the Houston area, one family died from carbon monoxide as their car idled in their garage. A woman and her three grandchildren died in a fire that authorities said might have been caused by a fireplace they were using.

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on strained power grids. Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states from the Dakotas to the Texas Panhandle, said rolling blackouts were no longer needed, but it asked customers to conserve energy until at least Saturday night.

Drinking water affected

In Texas on Thursday, about 325,000 homes and businesses remained without power, down from about three million on Wednesday. The state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said the remaining outages are largely weather-related, rather than forced outages that were made early Monday to stabilize the power grid.

A sign advises customers entering a convenience store that they have no running water. Residents of Arlington, Texas, were told to conserve and boil water after a potential water main break. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/The Associated Press)

“We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on,” said ERCOT senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin.

Woodfin warned that rotating outages could return if electricity demand rises as people get power and heating back, though they would not last as long as outages earlier this week.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned that state residents “are not out of the woods,” with temperatures remaining well below freezing statewide and south-central Texas threatened by a winter storm.

Adding to the state’s misery, the weather jeopardized drinking water systems. Authorities ordered seven million people — a quarter of the population in the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record-low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and pipes.

Water pressure has fallen across the state because lines have frozen, and many residents are leaving faucets dripping in hopes of preventing pipes from freezing, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Abbott urged residents to shut off water to their homes, if possible, to prevent more busted pipes and to preserve pressure in municipal systems.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he expects that residents in the nation’s fourth-largest city will have to boil tap water before drinking it until Sunday or Monday.

Hospitals cancel some surgeries

In Austin, some hospitals faced a loss in water pressure and, in some cases, heat.

“Because this is a state-wide emergency situation that is also impacting other hospitals within the Austin area, no one hospital currently has the capacity to accept transport of a large number of patients,” said David Huffstutler, CEO of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, in a statement.

A patient at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center is prepared for transport. Earlier on Wednesday, hospital officials said some patients at the facility would be moved over to other hospitals in the area after the building began losing heat due to low water pressure. (Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/The Associated Press)

Two of Houston Methodist’s community hospitals had no running water but still treated patients, with most non-emergency surgeries and procedures cancelled for Thursday and possibly Friday, said spokesperson Gale Smith.

Emergency rooms were crowded “due to patients being unable to meet their medical needs at home without electricity,” Smith said. She said hospital pipes had burst but were repaired.

Texas Children’s Hospital’s main campus at the Texas Medical Center and another location had low water pressure, but the system was adequately staffed and patients had enough water and “are safe and comfortable,” spokesperson Jenn Jacome said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent generators to support water treatment plants, hospitals and nursing homes in Texas, along with thousands of blankets and ready-to-eat meals, officials said. The Texas Restaurant Association also said it was co-ordinating donations of food to hospitals.

WATCH | Some Texas gas stations run out of fuel:

Extreme winter weather in Texas has delayed delivery of gasoline to some fuel stations in northern Texas, leaving drivers to scramble. 0:42

Mayor resigns 

The now former mayor of Colorado City, Texas, said he had already turned in his resignation when he wrote a controversial Facebook post on Tuesday.

Tim Boyd said it was not the local government’s responsibility to help those suffering in the cold without power. “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” the typo-ridden post, which was made as millions in Texas were without power following the storm, said.

Boyd also wrote that he was “sick and tired” of people looking for handouts and that the current situation is “sadly a product of a socialist government.”

Boyd deleted his post but stood by the sentiments in a follow-up message. He also wrote that his original message was posted as a private citizen, not the mayor of Colorado City.

Father John Szatkowski, left, and Deacon Bob Bonomi of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Richardson sweep water out of the church. (Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press)

“I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout,” Boyd’s follow-up post said.

Turtles rescued from cold

Thousands of sea turtles unused to cold temperatures have been washing up on the beaches of South Padre Island, off the southern coast of Texas.

WATCH | Hundreds of sea turtles shelter in Texas convention centre to escape cold:

Volunteers in South Padre Island, Tex., have rescued about 2,500 sea turtles who ran ashore to escape icy waters and are now being warmed at a convention centre. 1:10

Ed Caum, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the turtles are “cold-stunned.” That’s a condition where cold-blooded animals suddenly exhibit hypothermic reactions such as lethargy and an inability to move when the temperature in the environment around them drops.

Volunteers have brought some 4,700 of them to the convention centre, where they are being kept in tubs and enclosures before they can be released when the weather warms up.

Although, as this Tik Tok user demonstrated on Tuesday, fish weren’t faring much better in their indoor tanks during the blackouts.

‘An extreme challenge’ in Mississippi

The weather also disrupted water systems in several southern cities, including New Orleans and Shreveport, La., where fire trucks delivered water to hospitals and bottled water was brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.

Power was cut to a New Orleans facility that pumps drinking water from the Mississippi River. A spokesperson for the Sewerage and Water Board said on-site generators were used until electricity was restored.

And in Jackson, Miss., Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said almost the entire city of about 150,000 was without water Thursday night.

A person warms up using a combination of towels, clothes and gloves in the warming shelter at the Johnnie Champion Community Center in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday. Some people at the shelter had lost power, water and heat at their homes following winter storms, but many are people experiencing homelessness. (Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)

Crews were pumping as much water as possible to refill the city’s tanks, but there was a shortage of chemicals to treat the water, and road closures made it difficult for distributors to make deliveries, Lumumba said.

“We are dealing with an extreme challenge with getting more water through our distribution system,” he said. “This becomes increasingly challenging because we have so many residents at home.”

Drinking water was made available at fire stations throughout Jackson, and officials also planned to set up bottled water pickup sites.

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CBC | World News

What it will take to keep nursing home residents safe from COVID-19

To counter some of the drivers of coronavirus transmission among essential workers, governments across Canada should prioritize safety, say experts who’ve looked closely at avoiding outbreaks among the most vulnerable.

Canada’s worst outbreaks continue to hit residents of long-term care homes, where short staffing can make it difficult to care for vulnerable people sick with COVID-19. To keep them safe will require addressing long-standing staffing shortages on top of stockpiling personal protective equipment and changing how the long-term care sector is led.

Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor in the school of nursing at the University of British Columbia, says she found a combination of good planning, strong leadership and a focus on safety contributed to how a large B.C. long-term care facility successfully kept COVID-19 at bay at the start of the pandemic.

“Their [leadership] decisions were essentially driven by prioritization of safety rather than being driven by budget and finances, which was really important,” Havaei said. She and her team analyzed surveys and reviewed administrative data and interviewed leaders, workers and family members for the research.

In contrast to the horrors reported by the military at some devastated long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario in the spring, Havaei said staff at the B.C. facility went above and beyond in caring for residents.

The workers spent quality time with those under their care, reading them books, painting their nails and facilitating virtual connections with family members.

WATCH | A daughter’s devotion to helping her mom recover from COVID-19:

When her 98-year-old mother was diagnosed with COVID-19, Mary Sardelis moved into the retirement home to save her life. She said what she saw was ‘no man’s land.’ 7:52

Havaei is now planning a provincewide study of B.C.’s single-site employment policy for long-term care workers, which requires staff to work in only one high-risk site.

To Havaei, more flexible paid sick leave policies and ensuring adequate 24/7 staffing in long-term care homes go hand-in-hand with keep residents safe.

“My personal opinion is that staffing is the cause, or is probably one of the root causes, of this whole situation,” of having to call in the military to deal with outbreaks in long-term care homes during the first wave, she said. 

She says several factors exacerbate the challenges staff face in long-term care homes:

  • Crowding of residents.
  • Residents may lack the cognitive ability needed to follow handwashing and other infection prevention measures.
  • On top of their regular workload, staff became the eyes and ears of family members who weren’t allowed to visit or provide care.

Havaei points to a body of research, including her own, that’s established a link between burnout of nurses and higher likelihood of adverse events for patients or residents.

“They are more likely to make some sort of a patient-adverse event, like making a medication error, having their patient fall, violating infection prevention control guidelines that potentially result in urinary tract infection and so on,” she said. 

During the second, worsening wave of COVID-19 across much of Canada, nurses and personal support workers at long-term care homes face those everyday challenges on top of the coronavirus. About 40 per cent of all long-term care homes in Ontario alone are dealing with an active COVID-19 outbreak.

Havaei wonders whether stretching staff too thin in such a high-risk environment contributes to lapses in infection control that can allow the virus to take hold.

In B.C., health-care workers top the list of workers’ compensation claims followed by long-term care, a much smaller industry proportionately.

Staffing is probably one of the root causes of devastating outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care homes across Canada, says Farinaz Havaei. (Submitted by Farinaz Havaei)

Work both improves health and can sicken

Victoria Arrandale, an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, studies how to reduce exposure to hazards in the workplace, including COVID-19. It’s a field she was drawn to after suffering an ankle injury at a pulp mill in her home province of British Columbia, plunging her into the world of filing a workers’ compensation claim.

“I just got hooked on thinking about how work does impact people’s health,” Arrandale recalled. “It improves people’s health because it provides stable income, hopefully, but it can also make people sick.”

Arrandale said paid sick leave is an important policy because it can help prevent the introduction of the coronavirus into the workplace.

From a population-level perspective, Arrandale would like to see more detailed collection of workplace data during contact tracing, as in Ontario’s Peel Region and Hamilton, and as Toronto is moving toward.

“We’ve got good information on health care, but having it for every [sector] would allow us to better understand where the workplace burden of COVID is arising,” Arrandale said. “There may be groups of people who we’re not recognizing that could be more precariously employed or racialized groups, women.”

Having a more complete picture could improve understanding of where and why workplace outbreaks occur to better target prevention measures, such as staggering shifts and breaks, providing alternative lunch spaces or splitting up people who are all working in a row while still achieving workplace goals, she said.

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CBC | Health News

COVID-19 cases rise just months ahead of Olympics, Tokyo residents at odds with whether Games should proceed

Fifty-seven years ago, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics signified the rebirth of a nation that had risen from the ashes of the Second World War. Those Games helped launch the beginning of an extended expansion that turned Japan into an economic superpower. 

But with the rescheduled 2020 Games set to begin July 23, the story is much different. The contrast is ironic.

“Most people are against it because of coronavirus issues, restrictions, costs in economic downturn, etc. If no COVID-19, then the majority would be for it,” said Robert Whiting, a Tokyo resident and an author and journalist who specializes in contemporary Japanese culture. 

Back in the early 1960s, most Japanese were initially opposed to hosting the Olympics, but ultimately came to cherish the symbolism of the event.

More than a half-century later, the population appeared ready to back staging the Summer Games again, only to have a pandemic derail the event and flip public opinion in the process.

“When Japan won the bid in 1959 most people were against the idea,” said Whiting, who in 2018 published “The Two Tokyo Olympics 1964/2020.” “The cost was too high and Tokyo had a lot of problems.”

Whiting noted a litany of issues that organizers were confronted with ahead of Japan’s first Olympics as the host nation.

“There was only one five-star hotel — the Imperial — which was falling into disrepair, no highway system, you couldn’t drink the tap water and only one fourth of structures in the city had flush toilets,” Whiting said. “But the city put up eight new expressways, two subway lines, five new five-star hotels, a monorail to and from Haneda Airport and a bullet train.”

The transformation of Tokyo in five years was nothing short of phenomenal.

An elevated expressway was built in the Akasaka-mitsuke area of Tokyo in preparation for the 1964 Olympics. (Getty Images)

1964 a ‘huge success’

“Life Magazine called it the ‘best Olympics ever’ [at the time] and the Games were a tremendous source of pride for Japanese, symbolized their re-entry into the global community after defeat in war,” Whiting said. “It was a huge success.”

In the leadup to the 2020 Games, most polls showed a majority of Japanese were in favour of hosting another Summer Olympics, but once the COVID-19 crisis began and persisted, the pendulum began to swing the other way.

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, the same day the city reported a record of 2,447 new cases of COVID-19. Japan has attributed over 3,500 deaths to COVID-19, relatively low for a country of 126 million.

But two polls in recent months illustrated the sentiments as the rescheduled Games draw closer. Sixty per cent of those who responded to an Asahi TV poll in November wanted the extravaganza postponed or cancelled outright, while a Kyodo News poll in July found that just 24 per cent supported holding the Olympics as scheduled.

The ever-increasing cost of staging the Games has soured many and made the athletic part of the Olympics almost an afterthought.

I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held.– Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, Olympic gymnastics gold medallist

Japan’s National Audit Board released a report in December that estimated costs for the 2020 Olympics would run to $ 28 billion, with only $ 5.6 billion coming from private funds. 

“I don’t believe this is an efficient use of taxpayer money,” said Sanae Tanaka, a Tokyo resident. “This could be spent in more useful ways. Do we really need to use it for the Olympics?”

“I am worried about holding the Tokyo Olympics in this situation,” added Yuriko Komiyama. “I wonder if the situation will get better before next summer.”

The negativity that has begun to envelop talk of the Games has even trickled down to the athletes. In a recent interview, gymnastics legend Kohei Uchimura, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in the men’s all-around discipline and a six-time world champion in the event, cited his concerns.

The opening ceremony of the 1964 Olympics. (AFP via Getty Images)

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach (centre) wears a face mask as he visits the National Stadium in November. The venue is scheduled to host the opening ceremony on July 23. (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Caution and safety

“I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held,” Uchimura said. “I would like everyone to think, ‘What can I do?’ and change their mindset in that direction. I know it is very difficult, but I wonder if the athletes will be able to perform unless they have the same feelings.”

Two-time Olympic figure skater (1976, 1980) and TV personality Emi Watanabe thinks caution and safety should be prioritized with regard to the Games.

“I know the pandemic has changed training schedules and many athletes in the world are suffering because they are not able to practice because of lockdowns,” Watanabe said. “We all have to sacrifice what is best for the human race rather than rush to hold the Olympics until COVID-19 disappears from our planet. I think it should wait until the world is a safe place again.” 

The Tokyo-based anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai, which participated in a protest during a visit by IOC president Thomas Bach to Japan in November, made its feelings known in written responses to a series of questions submitted to them.

Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.– Anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai

“Our mission is to stop the Tokyo Olympics and have the Olympics abolished,” the group, which was formed in 2013, wrote. “The IOC and Tokyo Olympics organizers have never tried to meet with us.”

Hangorin No Kai indicated that the overwhelming majority of the public they have conversed with are concerned about long-term issues and how hosting the Olympics will impact society.

“Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.”

When asked if their views would be different if the Olympics and surrounding costs were entirely privately financed, the group didn’t hold back.

A Tokyo streetscape in 1964 heralds the Games. (Getty Images)

A large screen shows Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday as he declares a state of emergency in Tokyo because of rising cases of COVID-19. (AFP via Getty Images)

Novelty worn off

“We have already lost public spaces and services, including the privatization of public parks due to privatization for the Olympics,” Hangorin No Kai said. “At present, the promotion of the Olympics has even invaded public education and has caused great damage like brainwashing and mobilizing students to support the Olympics. In addition to these, there is concern that the privatization of public education will be accelerated if the event is held with private investment.”

Whiting believes the novelty of hosting the Olympics, which the country has done three times previously (Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972, Nagano 1998), had worn off for the Japanese ahead of the Tokyo 2020 bid.

“Now, people are more blasé. Been there, done that,” Whiting said. “Many think the Games are too expensive and money should have been spent on the March 11, 2001, [earthquake and tsunami] recovery. Businesses were against it.”

Robert Whiting is the author of A Tale of Two Olympics, a comparison of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and the Games scheduled for this summer. (Courtesy Robert Whiting)

Whiting pointed out that despite several missteps early on, most people did support hosting the Games again after the bid was secured.

“When Japan won the bid in Buenos Aires [in 2013] attitudes began to change,” Whiting said. “People got behind it despite embarrassments like the flawed National Stadium design, vote-buying scandal, plagiarized logo, e-coli in Tokyo Bay, where water events were to be held, and holding the Games in the brutal summer heat. The 1964 Games were held in October because the [Japan Olympic Committee] said summer was too hot.”

Japan-Forward.com sportswriter Ed Odeven, who has lived in the country for 14 years and covered multiple Olympics, believes there is still hope for the 2020 Games.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all opinion about the likelihood of Japan staging the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics,” Odeven said. “Plenty of people have doubts, but many observers within Japan can point to the successful completion of the Nippon Professional Baseball season, with gradual increases in maximum spectator capacity up to 50 per cent of venue capacity by season’s end.

“Other pro sports circuits, including soccer’s J. League and basketball’s B. League, and big competitions such as multiple Grand Sumo Tournaments have also adjusted to playing during the global pandemic, adhering to government health experts’ advice,” Odeven said. “This includes frequent COVID-19 testing for athletes, social distancing for fans in the overall seating setup and face masks for venue workers, media and fans.”

Olympic super-fan Kyoko Ishikawa in front of the National Stadium. The Tokyo resident has attended every Summer Olympics in the past 30 years and doesn’t plan on missing out on a Games in her home city in 2021. (AFP via Getty Images)

Odeven cited the recent approval of vaccines as being significant. 

“The COVID-19 vaccine now starting to be administered could reduce fears about international travel to Japan for the Olympics if the efforts show a significant reduction in coronavirus cases,” Odeven said. “And that viewpoint would spread considerably among Tokyo 2020 organizers, athletes, coaches, etc. if other nations can demonstrate that the vaccine is working.

“People don’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic about anything set for next summer,” Odeven said. “Everyone is just eager for [the pandemic] to end and for the massive impact of the pandemic on their lives — and all of the disruptions to normal routines — to go away as soon as possible.”

Odeven thinks the vaccines are the silver bullet that could restore faith in holding a massive sporting event in one of the biggest cities in the world in the wake of a pandemic.

“The vaccines are the real litmus test,” Odeven said. “If they can make a real impact in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus around the world, I think people’s expectations about the Olympics will rise.”

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CBC | Sports News

Health-care workers, nursing home residents should get vaccine first, U.S. government panel advises

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line when the first coronavirus vaccine shots become available in the U.S., an influential government advisory panel said Tuesday.

The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 to recommend those groups get priority in the first days of any coming vaccination program, when doses are expected to be very limited. The two groups encompass about 24 million people out of a U.S. population of about 330 million.

Later this month, the Food and Drug Administration will consider authorizing emergency use of two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. Current estimates project that no more than 20 million doses of each vaccine will be available by the end of 2020. Also, each product requires two doses. As a result, the shots will be rationed in the early stages.

Tuesday’s action merely designated who should get shots first if a safe and effective vaccine becomes available. The panel did not endorse any particular vaccine. Panel members are waiting to hear the FDA’s evaluation and to see more safety and efficacy data before endorsing any particular product.

Experts say the vaccine will probably not become widely available in the U.S. until the spring.

The panel of outside scientific experts, created in 1964, makes recommendations to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who almost always approves them. It normally has 15 voting members, but one seat is currently vacant.

The recommendations are not binding, but for decades they have been widely heeded by doctors, and they have determined the scope and funding of U.S. vaccination programs.

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, or NACI, has released preliminary recommendations that prioritize the elderly and others at severe risk of illness, including health-care workers, front-line staff and those with lower access to health care, such as Indigenous populations. 

In the U.S., it will be up to state authorities whether to follow the guidance. It will also be left to them to make further, more detailed decisions if necessary — for example, whether to put emergency room doctors and nurses ahead of other health-care workers if vaccine supplies are low.

Devastating toll in homes

The outbreak in the U.S. has killed nearly 270,000 people and caused more than 13.5 million confirmed infections, with deaths, hospitalizations and cases rocketing in recent weeks.

As the virtual meeting got underway, panel member Dr. Beth Bell of the University of Washington noted that on average, one person is dying of COVID-19 per minute in the U.S. right now, “so I guess we are acting none too soon.”

Nursing home residents and the staff members who care for them have accounted for six per cent of U.S. coronavirus cases and a staggering 39 per cent of deaths, say officials with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle/AP)

About three million people in the U.S. live in nursing homes, long-term chronic care hospitals and other long-term care facilities. Those patients and the staff members who care for them have accounted for six per cent of the nation’s coronavirus cases and a staggering 39 per cent of deaths, CDC officials say.

Despite the heavy toll, some board members at Tuesday’s meeting said they hesitated to include such patients in the first group getting shots.

Dr. Richard Zimmerman, a University of Pittsburgh flu vaccine researcher who watched the hearing online, said he thought it was “premature” to include nursing home residents as a priority group. “[The panel’s] vote seems to assume that these people will respond well to the vaccine. … I don’t think we know that,” said Zimmerman, a former ACIP member.

Committee members were unanimous in voicing support for vaccinating health-care workers, according to CDC officials.

That broad category of an estimated 21 million in the U.S. includes medical staff who care for — or come in contact with — patients in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and doctor’s offices. It also includes home health-care workers and paramedics. Depending on how state officials apply the panel’s recommendations, it could also encompass janitorial staff, food service employees and medical records clerks.

Trump cabinet members say governors should make the call

The government estimates people working in health care account for 12 per cent of U.S. COVID-19 cases but only about 0.5 per cent of deaths. Experts say it’s imperative to keep health-care workers on their feet so they can administer the shots and tend to the booming number of infected Americans.

For months, members of the immunization panel had said they wouldn’t take a vote until the FDA approved a vaccine, as is customary. But late last week, the group scheduled an emergency meeting.

WATCH l Canadian vaccine committee member speaks to challenges:

As Canada prepares to distribute millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines in January, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh and David Levine, who managed the H1N1 vaccine rollout for Montreal, say this vaccination campaign won’t be without challenges. 3:56

The panel’s chairman, Dr. Jose Romero, said the decision stemmed from a realization that the states are facing a Friday deadline to place initial orders for the Pfizer vaccine and determine where they should be delivered. The committee decided to meet now to give state and local officials guidance, he said.

But some panel members and other experts had also grown concerned by comments from Trump administration officials that suggested differing vaccine priorities.

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force said in a meeting with CDC officials last month that people 65 and older should go to the head of the line, according to a federal official who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Then last week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stressed that ultimately governors will decide who in their states gets the shots. Vice-President Mike Pence echoed that view.

Asked whether Azar’s comment played a role in the scheduling of the meeting, Romero said, “We don’t live in a bubble. We know what he said. But that wasn’t the primary reason this is being done.”

Jason Schwartz, a professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, said it makes sense for the panel to take the unusual step of getting its recommendation out first.

“Without that formal recommendation, it does create a void from which states could go off in all sorts of different directions,” said Schwartz, who is not on the panel.

The panel will meet again at some point to decide who should be next in line. Among the possibilities: teachers, police, firefighters and workers in other essential fields, such as food production and transportation; the elderly; and people with underlying medical conditions.

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CBC | World News

7 residents dead at Toronto long-term care home amid COVID-19 outbreak

Seven residents have died at a Scarborough, Ont., long-term care home in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, while 136 other residents and 66 staff members have tested positive for the virus, said the company that owns and operates the facility.

Sienna Senior Living said on its website that the current outbreak at Rockcliffe Care Community, 3015 Lawrence Avenue E., west of McCowan Road, began on Nov. 2. The home has 204 beds. It confirmed the deaths and latest case numbers in an email on Saturday.

“We are grateful to our partners and team members who are working very hard to protect the health of our residents during the second wave of the pandemic. The safety of everyone in our residences is our highest priority as the province experiences unprecedented rates of COVID-19,” Nadia Daniell-Colarossi, manager of media relations for Sienna, said in the email.

Daniell-Colarossi provided no details of the deaths, but expressed condolences to relatives.

The home is working with Toronto Public Health, Scarborough Health Network and Sienna’s physician experts, Dr. Andrea Moser, chief medical officer, and Dr. Allison McGeer, chief infection prevention and control consultant, to respond to the outbreak, Daniell-Colarossi  said.

Measures to reduce further spread of the virus at Rockcliffe include:

  • Full contact and droplet precautions throughout the building.
  • Residents must remain in their rooms, including for meals.
  • Residents may only leave Rockcliffe for essential medical appointments.
  • Group programming is paused until further notice.
  • Only essential caregivers are permitted in the residence.
  • Team members are working in cohorts so they only provide care to a specific group of residents.

“Many lessons were taken from the beginning of the pandemic and in preparing for this second wave, our focus was to enhance our expertise, grow our personal protective equipment (PPE) supply, reinforce our infection prevention and control practices, invest in our residences, support the frontlines, and strengthen communications with residents and families,” Daniell-Colarossi said.

She said staff members are communicating with families through virtual town halls, telephone, email and newsletter updates to keep them up-to-date about measures being implemented to control the outbreak.

The home is located across the street from Scarborough General Hospital.

“Rockcliffe opened its doors in 1972 and, because of the cultural diversity of the 204 residents, is often referred to as Sienna’s very own ‘United Nations,'” its website said.

WATCH | How long-term care homes are battling the second wave of COVID-19: 

Long-term care homes are battling this second wave of COVID-19 — which is proving difficult. Ninety-three long-term care homes across Ontario are reporting outbreaks with hundreds of residents infected with the virus. Ali Chiasson has more. 2:35

Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health for Toronto Public Health (TPH), said in an email on Saturday that the public health unit was notified of the first case at Rockcliffe Care Community on Oct. 30.

She said TPH took action immediately to make sure “outbreak measures” were put in place to protect residents and staff. The public health unit is continuing to investigate.

To prevent further spread of COVID-19 at the facility, TPH has worked with the long-term care home to implement the following:

  • Ensure twice a day screening of residents and staff remains in place to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and to identify new infections as early as possible.  
  • Implement physical distancing measures and cancel all group activities.
  • Enhancing cleaning, particularly for frequently touched surfaces.
  • Work to make sure that personal protective equipment (PPE) continues to be used appropriately to minimize health risks. 
  • Restrict staff from working on more than one unit within the facility.

“TPH works with all institutions when cases are identified to ensure that prevention measures are in place to prevent further virus spread and assesses the potential for ongoing risk of transmission to staff and vulnerable residents in these settings,” Dubey said. 

She said all cases and their close contacts are also told to go into isolation for 14 days.

Signs direct scheduled visitors at the rear of Rockcliffe Care Community. The long-term care home is one of 100 in Ontario and one of 26 in Toronto with an active COVID-19 outbreak as of Saturday at 10:30 a.m. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

“We are very concerned about all COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes (LTCH), and their potentially devastating impact on our parents, our grandparents and our loved ones,” she said.  

“We know that any infectious disease can spread easier and faster in congregate settings, but LTCHs are especially concerning for COVID-19 because these residents are generally older, more vulnerable to infection due to compromised immune systems, or chronic health conditions.”

Vulnerable people at risk when virus spreads, doctor says

Earlier this week, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, had warned that the city must take more steps to prevent people, including those in long-term care homes, from getting sick and dying due to COVID-19. Community transmission can lead to further spread in institutions, she said.

“If action is not taken we can expect to see even more cases of COVID-19, which means more illness and more death. These infections could easily spread further through the health care system, to the long-term care system, to schools and to workplaces,” De Villa said on Tuesday.

“To everyone in Toronto, I want to warn you in the plainest possible terms that COVID-19 is out there at levels we have not seen before. You should assume it is everywhere and that without proper precautions and protections, you are at risk of infection,” she continued. 

“We can’t guarantee what the course of illness looks like. We can’t predict what the long-term effects might be. People recover from it who you wouldn’t expect to live through it. And people you’d think would come through it can die instead.”

The home is located across the street from Scarborough General Hospital. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Home inspected due to complaints, critical incidents

Rockcliffe Care Community is one of 100 long-term care homes in Ontario and one of 26 in Toronto with an active COVID-19 outbreak as of Saturday.

Inspectors with the Ontario long-term care ministry inspected the home due to complaints and critical incidents on July 21, Feb. 21, Jan. 20 and Jan. 7 this year.

Toronto has had a cumulative total of 34,222 COVID-19 cases as of Friday at 2 p.m., with 28,450 marked as recovered, A total of 1,448 people have died of the virus in Toronto, while 164 are currently in hospital.

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CBC | Health News

As COVID-19 cases climb in long-term care homes, experts hope to avoid locking down residents

As the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to climb, the virus has crept back into long-term care and retirement homes across the country. 

After spreading like wildfire through hundreds of facilities in the spring, killing thousands of seniors, health officials were able to bring it under control during the summer, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health in Toronto.

But after Labour Day, as COVID-19 cases sharply rose among the general public, so too did the number of outbreaks in long-term care. 

“It really reminds us that the outbreaks that we see in our nursing homes and our retirement homes across the country are really the product of community transmission,” Sinha told Dr. Brian Goldman, host of the CBC podcast The Dose.

LISTEN | What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

The Dose23:15What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

“What really worries me now going into the second wave is that as we’re seeing the community transmission ramp up, we’re seeing more and more homes get into outbreak,” Sinha said.

“It’s only going to be a matter of time before that translates into more deaths … deaths that unfortunately, I think, many of us feel are just utterly preventable.” 

Based on data provided by provincial health ministries, CBC News estimates that as of Tuesday evening, there were active COVID-19 outbreaks in more than 120 long-term care homes in Canada’s hardest-hit provinces alone: Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.  

On top of the LTC count, there are close to 100 outbreaks in retirement homes in those provinces, primarily in Ontario and Quebec.  

“Outbreaks” are defined differently in various provinces. In Ontario, only one case — either a resident or a staff member — triggers outbreak protocols. Other provinces count two or more cases as an outbreak. 

‘I think we’re going to do a better job this round … about making sure we’re not shutting families out’ from their loved ones in long-term care, says Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health in Toronto. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Given how deadly COVID-19 has been among elderly Canadians, any resurgence of cases in long-term care facilities is concerning, experts say — but not surprising. 

“It’s very similar to the schools, in the sense that what we see in long-term care homes is going to reflect what we’re seeing in the community,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“So as we see community transmission increase, we expect to start seeing increases in long-term care homes and retirement homes because they’re not sealed off from the rest of our community.”

Staff who work in long-term care and retirement homes live in the community, Sinha said, so in places where there is a lot of coronavirus circulating — such as hot spots like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal — it’s much more likely they “are inadvertently getting COVID and then inadvertently bringing it into [care] homes.”

Although it’s “early days,” Sinha sees some hope in the fact that the majority of outbreaks this fall appear to be much smaller than they were during COVID-19’s first assault on long-term care homes last spring.

“Perhaps we have better systems in place that we can identify it early, isolate quickly and not let small outbreaks become massive outbreaks,” Sinha said. 

That’s the big question, Tuite said, that will determine whether COVID-19 will be less catastrophic this time around. 

“What do those outbreaks look like?” she said. “Are we able to nip them in the bud and, you know, basically find infected staff before they transmit to residents?”

Infectious disease epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite hopes long-term care homes now have the tools they need to nip COVID-19 outbreaks in the bud before they spread from staff to residents. (Nick Iwanyshyn/University of Toronto)

Whether that happens will reveal if the changes governments and long-term care homes have pledged since the spring are enough to combat this round of COVID-19, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network. 

“What is disappointing is how much of it we’re seeing this early in the fall, knowing there’s a long fall and winter ahead,” Bogoch said. 

“It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing now,” he said. “We have a very good idea of how this virus spreads, who’s vulnerable, and we saw the tremendous vulnerabilities of our long-term facilities during the first wave.”

Some vital policy changes were promised as a result, he said, including fixing the problem of underpaid care workers moving between homes, ensuring access to personal protective equipment and integrating infection prevention and control measures in long-term care homes. 

“This has theoretically been done, but has it actually been implemented to an extent that will protect the long-term care facilities throughout the course of the fall and the winter? The answer remains to be seen.”

Long-term care lockdowns ‘last resort’

In addition to protecting seniors from COVID-19 infection, Sinha emphasized the importance of protecting them from re-living the lockdown of long-term care and retirement homes that happened in the spring. 

The thought of going through that fear, loneliness and isolation again is traumatizing, he said. 

“I can’t imagine the emotions that people are feeling right now,” Sinha said. “[But] I think we’re going to do a better job this round … about making sure we’re not shutting families out completely.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network, says we know much more about how COVID-19 spreads and how to stop it than we did when the virus ravaged long-term care homes last spring. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Even as COVID-19 cases rise, some provinces, including Ontario, have recognized that and aren’t locking long-term care homes down completely, allowing residents to have at least one designated “family caregiver.”

That caregiver not only provides much-needed emotional support, but also helps understaffed homes with tasks such as feeding and bathing their elderly family member, Sinha said. 

In addition, it’s important for people to consider their loved one’s wishes when weighing the risks and benefits of seeing them in long-term care, he said. Many of his patients tell him the value of family visits overrides their worries about getting COVID-19. 

The way to visit as safely as possible, he said, is to make sure that you’re following public health guidelines in all other aspects of your life, including avoiding crowds, physically distancing, wearing a mask and handwashing. 

“If you know that you’re doing the right things yourself personally to protect yourself against COVID and then you’re following all the protocols and precautions [at the long-term care home],” then it’s likely pretty safe, Sinha said. 

Tuite agrees that access to family visits should be maintained during this next phase of COVID-19.

“I think lockdowns should be a measure of last resort,” she said.

“At this point we know enough about the virus, we have enough tools that we can control it,” Tuite said. 

“The fact that there’s COVID circulating doesn’t mean that we need to lock these homes down. It means that we need to have really strong infection prevention and control measures in place. It means that people who are going into the homes need to be screened.”

And, Tuite  said, it means flattening the COVID-19 curve once again. 

“The best way to protect people living in long-term care homes is to keep community transmission low,”  she said. 

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CBC | Health News

Residents of Ontario LTC homes tell inquiry of devastation of COVID lockdown

One by one, residents of Ontario’s long-term care homes described the emotional devastation caused by the COVID-19 lockdown to an independent inquiry — and implored the governments to address isolation before the second wave of COVID-19 crashes down.

Lonely, depressed, muzzled and trapped are some of the words the residents used to describe the pandemic to the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission by video conference.

“Now when I see these dog cages on TV for stray animals, I see myself as one of these neglected, filthy, and starving-for-love-and-affection little critters,” said Virginia Parraga, who lives in a long-term care home in Toronto.

“I now weep for our human race and mankind.”

The novel coronavirus ripped through the province’s long-term care homes overwhelming the system and killing more than 1,900 residents, as of Thursday. Severe staff shortages, crumbling infrastructure and lack of oversight were some of the factors that contributed to the mass COVID-19 outbreaks in those facilities.

The commission, led by former Superior Court judge Frank Marrocco, will investigate how COVID-19 spread in the long-term care system and come up with recommendations.

‘Pain will not go away,’ resident says

Barry Hickling, one of the residents who testified last week, spoke of the long-lasting effect of the lockdown.

“I hope that this will be a tremendous learning experience for all of us, but the pain will not go away. It will stay,” he said.

“It will torment us because of the potential for another wave or potential of someone bringing something into a long-term care home.”

Hickling, who has lived in a long-term care home in Windsor, Ont., for the past 10 years, said the government should take immediate action to fix the problems.

“We are isolated, alone, without family or friends to visit with us,” he said. “I don’t want to go through this ever in my life again. And I pray and hope that, by gosh, if there is another wave, let’s deal with it adequately, appropriately, efficiently, and directly.”

The province recently announced new restrictions on homes in COVID-19 hot spots, limiting visitors to staff, essential visitors and caregivers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The province eased visitation restrictions several months into the pandemic, but many homes continued with the lockdown, the inquiry heard.

Isolation felt living behind bars, resident says

The province recently announced new restrictions on homes in COVID-19 hot spots, limiting visitors to staff, essential visitors and caregivers.

Carolyn Snow, who lives at a long-term care facility in Keswick, Ont., said the isolation felt like living behind bars.

“Except that prisoners are treated better,” said Snow.

She said her sister-in-law, who was staying at another long-term care home, contracted the novel coronavirus and died.

“It went from not being too concerned to being devastated,” Snow said.

The residents also described a litany of problems inside the homes.

Residents ate soggy meals alone, watched endless TV

Residents could not socialize with their friends, ate soggy meals alone in their rooms and watched endless television, said Sharron Cooke, the president of the Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils who lives at a facility in Newmarket, Ont.

She said the lack of activity and stimulation “left residents dormant and sleeping all the time.”

A person wearing a mask looks out a window at Eatonville Care Centre, a long-term care home in Etobicoke, pictured here on April 13. (Evan Tsuyoshi Mitsui/CBC)

Several residents said they were left in the dark with minimal information or communication from the homes

“Just to be left in a room and not know what is past the walls has caused a lot of emotional concern,” Cooke said.

Residents ‘didn’t know what day it was’

The communication vacuum left vulnerable residents confused and disoriented.

“The residents didn’t know what day it was, what time it was,” Cooke said. “They were looking for nighties at noon because they couldn’t figure out what time of day it was.”

Hickling said staff shortages led to two mixups with his medication, which if he hadn’t noticed, would have left him in a great deal of pain.

Marrocco asked the residents for ideas on how to improve the situation in the homes.

Hickling said the key is to take care of staff, who then in turn can take better care of the residents.

“If they are not being cared for, if they are not taking the swabs and being tested in any other way, that is our lives,” Hickling said.

“That is where we live. They bring it in. They take it out. Whatever they are doing was frightening.”

A staff person stands inside Extendicare Guildwood long-term care home in Scarborough. One resident says the key is to take care of staff, who then in turn can take better care of the residents. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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Canada’s hardest-hit nursing homes lost 40% of residents in just 3 months of the pandemic

There are five seniors’ care facilities in Canada where more than 40 per cent of residents died during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a CBC News investigation has found.

Four of the residences with fatality rates higher than 40 per cent are in the Montreal area, and one is in Ontario.

Another 19 facilities, mostly in the Montreal and Toronto areas, lost between 30 and 40 per cent of their residents between March 1 and May 31.


CBC News collected and examined data for an exclusive national analysis to identify the residences with the highest rates of COVID-19-related deaths. 

The analysis reveals what the worst-hit residences had in common, which could prevent fatal mistakes from being repeated in the event of a second wave of the pandemic.

Here is what we found.

Laval the hardest-hit region

A third of the homes where 30 per cent or more of residents died during that period are in the Montreal suburb of Laval. 

The city is also home to six of the 10 residences with the highest COVID-19 fatality rates in Canada for the same period. 

“The whole region has suffered a lot,” Marie-Pierre Lagueux, director of nursing care at CHSLD de la Rive, a privately run nursing home in Laval, said in a statement in French.

The facility had the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the country, at 44 per cent.

In Laval, staff shortages, already a problem pre-COVID, were exacerbated when large numbers of care aides and medical personnel became sick, Marie-Eve Despatie-Gagnon, a spokesperson for the Laval health board, said in a statement in French. 

When members of the Canadian Forces were called in to help at some of the hardest-hit care homes, they noted high rates of absenteeism among staff generally, and that the resulting lack of care had a significant and noticeable effect on the personal hygiene of residents.

The Laval health board has also been criticized by unions for cycling care workers through multiple residences, which could also have spread the infection. 

Despatie-Gagnon said the health board has since taken steps to correct this, including recruiting more personnel to work in care homes and adjusting the schedules of care workers so it is possible for them to work in only one residence.

At CHSLD de la Rive, Lagueux said, there were many factors that influenced the high rare of death — notably, underlying health conditions. She said residents received good care, with two doctors onsite 14 hours a day who communicated with families. 

(CBC Graphics)

Staff shortages may also have led to sick employees being pressured to work and infecting frail residents — the allegation at the heart of a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Laval health board and the care home that saw the highest number of COVID-19 deaths. 

The lawsuit alleges that on March 22 a care aide and a nurse at the Sainte-Dorothée care home told their employer they had flu-like symptoms and asked to be tested for coronavirus. They claim they were told they did not have enough symptoms to warrant testing, and continued working for several days, during which time a resident they were exposed to tested positive. The employees themselves tested positive March 29. 

The lawsuit has not been certified by a judge, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

By the end of May, 93 people had died at Sainte-Dorothée.

Families asked for hospital care

One of them was Anna-José Maquet, who was 94. Her son, Jean-Pierre Daubois, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

He said in an interview with CBC News he was relieved to receive a call from the facility the evening of April 2, when he was told his mother was doing well and there were no COVID-19 patients on her floor. 

The next day, shortly before noon, Daubois said, his sister received a call saying her mother was doing poorly and she should come right away. 

Daubois was shocked to see the state of his mother, who he said had no underlying health conditions.

Jean-Pierre Daubois with his mother, Anna-José Manquet, at the Sainte-Dorothée care home in Laval Que. Manquet died April 3 at the age of 94. (Submitted by Jean-Pierre Daubois)

“It was a terrible sight,” he said. “It’s tough to describe how hard it was for her to breathe. The effort was so big that she was kind of breathing from the belly.” 

Daubois says he asked if there were any machines at the residence that could help his mother breathe and was told all the ventilators were at the hospital.

“No equipment was brought there, nor my mother brought to the hospital. So she died that night.”

Care homes in Quebec were also under a government directive to avoid transporting residents with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the hospital without a doctor’s approval.

Montreal lawyer Patrick Martin-Ménard, who is representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he has heard similar stories from families of other deceased care home residents throughout the province. 

“Many people who [wanted] a higher level of care, in fact, were forced to stay in the [nursing home] and did not receive the level of medical care that they would have received had they been transferred to a hospital,” he said. “Now, did that contribute to a higher death rate? I think it’s entirely possible.” 

Funeral home workers remove a body from the Centre d’hebergement Sainte-Dorothée, one of the care homes where more than 30% of residents died between March 1 and the end of May. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The Laval health board’s Despatie-Gagnon disputes this, saying all residents of the board’s publicly run nursing homes who needed hospital care received it. 

The question of whether to transfer COVID-19 patients to hospital was something health officials at some of the hardest-hit Ontario homes also grappled with.

At Pinecrest in Bobcaygeon, medical personnel said hospitalization for frail, elderly residents would have been a painful, stressful ordeal that was unlikely to change the outcome.

“When the infection takes hold in their lungs in this elderly population, we can just keep them comfortable. Realistically, a ventilator is not an option,” Dr. Stephen Oldridge, a physician who treats residents at Pinecrest, told CBC News in April.

Mary Carr, Pinecrest’s administrator, said the decision of whether to transfer a resident to the hospital rests with an attending doctor at the local hospital, who does an assessment over the phone. 

“Where a transfer is determined by physicians not to be clinically indicated at end of life, we are equipped to provide compassionate end-of-life care in the home,” she said in an emailed statement. “Some of the hardest conversations we have with families are the ones that reckon with a resident’s quality of life versus their longevity, but this is not a conversation we shy away from.”

At Orchard Villa, a Toronto-area nursing home where more than a quarter of residents with COVID-19 died, families also alleged they faced challenges having their loved ones transferred to the hospital.

Family members of people who died in long-term care homes attend a rally at the Ontario legislature on June 23. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In at least one case at that facility, the daughter of one resident with COVID-19 says she forced Orchard Villa to transfer her father to hospital. He recovered after being treated in hospital for malnutrition and dehydration.   

A spokesperson for Lakeridge Health, the regional health authority that has since taken over management of Orchard Villa from Southbridge Care Homes, said she was unable to comment on the allegations because they were not responsible for the facility at the time.

Infection control measures lacking

The hardest-hit care homes and seniors’ residences were places that did not identify and isolate infected residents and staff early on.

There were reports of personnel moving between infection zones without adequate equipment or observing proper procedures, or the physical placement of infected residents in proximity to others, from several of the most affected facilities, particularly Sainte-Dorothée , CHSLD De La Rive, Pinecrest, and Almonte Country Haven in rural Ontario.

(CBC Graphics)

Carr, Pinecrest’s administrator, said the virus posed “unique challenges” for the facility — its relatively small size and physical layout made it difficult to isolate infected patients. She said staff “have been in close, daily contact with local and provincial public health authorities to share information and implement precautionary measures.”

In Laval, infection control specialists have now been stationed in different care homes to make sure proper procedures are observed, Despatie-Gagnon said.

Outside Quebec and Ontario

Of the 182 nursing homes and residences that reported more than 10 deaths, just eight were outside Quebec and Ontario: four in B.C., in the Vancouver area; three in Alberta, in the Calgary area; and one in Halifax. 

None had a fatality rate higher than 16 per cent as of May 31.

B.C.’s ability to bring a “SWAT team” of provincial public health officials into care homes when the first infection was detected was a key reason outbreaks in that province did not spread to the same extent as those in eastern Canada, said Isobel Mackenzie, the province’s seniors’ advocate.

“They were in there right away,” she said. “And I think it was actually helpful for them to see the chaos in the first outbreak because they quickly realized, holy moly,” she said. 

The province was home to the country’s first coronavirus outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver.

“Our leadership, because of their expertise in infectious disease, understands 24 hours is going to make the difference [in] containing this … you’ve got to move very quickly.”

Funding model not a factor

In some parts of the country, such as Laval and eastern Ontario, for-profit long-term care and retirement homes have had higher numbers of COVID-19-related fatalities than public or non-profit facilities.

But that was not the case across the country.

The seniors’ residences with more than 30 per cent fatalities were evenly split between for-profit and not-for-profit homes. This was also true of all facilities that reported 10 or more deaths.


What we don’t know

A New York Times investigation found U.S. nursing homes where the majority of residents were Black or Hispanic were twice as likely to be hit by COVID-19 as those whose residents were mostly white. 

The equivalent data does not exist in Canada, making it impossible to say whether the same holds true in this country.   

CBC News has tracked the number of deaths in long-term care and seniors’ residences since the pandemic started in March. Our analysis included all facilities that had reported more than 10 deaths as of May 31. There are 182 such facilities across the country.

A CBC-Radio Canada team verified the number of deaths per facility with individual health boards, provincial governments and, in some cases, the residences themselves. We then used publicly available data on the number of beds per facility to obtain a rate.

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CBC | Health News