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Outbreaks underreported?

Posted: April 25, 2020

(April 24, 2020)

By: Antonella Artuso, Toronto Sun (Print Edition)

Long-term care residents account for 72% of the 713 officially reported COVID-19 deaths in Ontario.

However, the total death toll is likely higher than reported due to a delay in reporting.

A new report from the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) said that almost 3,800 residents and staff of health-care facilities have contracted COVID-19 and 80 longterm care homes have experienced major outbreaks with at least 10 cases.

Ontario public health reported 135 outbreaks in long-term care facilities and 37 in hospitals.

OHC executive director Natalie Mehra said the figures that have been emerging from Ontario public health officials trail reality and ignore outbreaks in some healthcare settings.

“People need to know,” Mehra said.

There have been 516 deaths of long-term care residents and five deaths of staff, according to provincial figures.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the situation “unacceptable.”

Premier Doug Ford, whose mother-in-law tested positive in a longterm care home, said the system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Mehra said the OHC has tracked 283 outbreaks in long-term care or similar settings, including 69 in retirement homes, and in hospitals in Ontario.

The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) reported Thursday its first death of a patient due to the pandemic.

“Part of it is that they’re only reporting hospitals and long-term care homes, but even in those we found more outbreaks than they’re reporting,” Mehra said. “It’s not clear to us why that is.”

Families trying to make a difficult decision about whether to remove a loved one from a nursing home, for instance, deserve full information about the extent of outbreaks, Mehra said.

While there is a significant increase in the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in these facilities, Mehra said they are still hearing from some staff that it is difficult to get hold of N95 masks.

Given the rapid spread of the virus, it’s appears likely that a surgical mask alone will not prevent an infection, she said.

The province has asked for military support at five priority nursing homes.

Long-term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said these facilities are on the front line of the global battle against COVID-19.

Fullerton said the Progressive Conservative government acted quickly at the outset of the pandemic, including being one of the first jurisdictions to ban all but essential visitors.

“And now we’re not afraid to ask for help,” she said. “Our homes are struggling and we’ve called in the military.”

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