Forty-six residents at a Scarborough long term care home are infected with COVID-19 and the facility says families will have to visit their loved ones though windows this Thanksgiving weekend.
Extendicare Scarborough, located at 3830 Lawrence Ave. E., said the majority of residents who have tested positive have either very mild symptoms or are asymptomatic but they will have to remain in their rooms.
To control the spread of the virus, the home is following outbreak protocols provided by Toronto Public Health and the Ontario long-term care ministry, a spokesperson for the home said in an email on Thursday.
"We understand this is concerning for families, and particularly difficult in the lead-up to a holiday when families plan to come together," the home's spokesperson said.
"Residents continue to be supported and monitored closely, and essential caregiver visitation remains ongoing, including welcoming these family members throughout the weekend for Thanksgiving, with a holiday meal planned on Monday."
The outbreak comes as at least one grassroots community health network warns a difficult winter is ahead, saying almost 1,500 patients and staff are already infected with COVID-19 in long-term care homes across the province.
In a letter on Wednesday, Extendicare Scarborough told patients' families that Toronto Public Health has said that all residents should remain in their rooms and residents will have to eat in their rooms, but one-on-one activities and physio programming will continue.
As for visits, registered essential caregivers are the only visitors permitted unless a resident is on palliative care. The home said its activity department will book window visits for residents able to wear a mask properly. Residents unable to wear a mask properly will have to have video calls in their rooms, the home said.
The home said a team from Scarborough Health Network was in the home on Wednesday to administer the bivalent vaccine to eligible residents. For those who are ineligible, a second clinic will be scheduled, the home said.
Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University, said the outbreak is unacceptable.
"I think at this stage in the game, we should have figured out how to manage infection, prevention and control in these facilities," she said.
'How does it get to this point?' prof asks
Stamatopoulos said she wonders if the homes in outbreak have enough staff, are providing sufficient and appropriate personal protection equipment, and training staff properly on infection, prevention and control. N95 masks should be mandated across the board for staff and residents, she said.
"How does it get to this point?" she said.
She added that it's "terribly upsetting" that residents will have to stay in their rooms on a holiday weekend. She said it amounts to solitary confinement.
Stamatopoulos said she would like to ask Paul Calandra, Ontario's long-term care minister, what the province is doing to make sure long-term care homes in the province know how to manage an outbreak properly.
Jake Roseman, spokesperson for Calandra, said in an email on Thursday the Ontario government has made investments in infection, prevention and control, has hired nurses and personal service workers and is increasing daily hours of care for residents.
The province is now offering bivalent vaccines to long-term care residents, he added.
"Due to the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, we have been able to help mitigate the number of severe health outcomes for our vulnerable populations," he said.
Roseman said more than 50 per cent of current resident COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic and 13 per cent of long-term care homes experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak have no resident cases.
"Health and safety measures remain in place to help homes when COVID-19 outbreaks occur," he said.
'We're on track for a really terrible winter'
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said the number of cases at long-term care homes reflects the state of spread in the general population.
"It's shockingly bad," she said. "I think we're on track for a really terrible winter. The hospitals don't have the capacity to deal with an influx of COVID patients."
According to Mehra, 143 out of Ontario's 630 long-term care homes are in outbreak, with 1,020 residents and 478 staff members infected.
"That's roughly 10 times the number of outbreaks that there were last year at this time and more than 10 times the number of staff and residents infected," she said.
"Now we have between 11 and 20 people in long-term care homes dying ever since mid-September every single day," she said.
The numbers mean one death every one to two hours, she said.
"It's staggering. It's very frightening. We need the government to do its job."
Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and the University Health Network, said Ontario will see an increase in the number of homes in outbreak but will not see the rates of death from the first few waves of the pandemic due to vaccination rates of residents and staff.
"COVID is now a different story," he said.
However, Sinha said he is concerned about staffing levels in the homes because it could be a challenge to make sure essential care needs will be met as staff members get infected.
"It's still tricky, especially in these settings, but I'm just glad at least that we're not seeing the level of fatalities, deaths and suffering that we were at the start of this pandemic."