Long-term care and retirement homes in London, Ont., are grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks as the province’s top doctor warns cases are on the rise.

Heading into the holiday season, long-term care facilities are maintaining strict policies meant to keep residents safe, who are among those most at-risk for serious respiratory illnesses.

But there’s worry there could be a spike in illnesses, said Kim Van Dam, vice president for long-term care with S&R Nursing Homes.

“We hold our breath every time there’s a holiday because residents are going out to socialize with their family or people come and visit Grandma,” she said.”You can be doing everything right but this virus is a sneaky little thing, and it can still find a way to work around all of our [precautions].”

Monitoring all residents for symptoms, mandatory masking, offering vaccines to residents, frequent cleaning of all surfaces and good hand hygiene are standard practices in long-term care homes to cut down on illnesses, she said.

Middlesex London Health Unit in London, Ont.
The Middlesex London Health Unit in London, Ont., is reporting that 8 long-term care and retirement facilities in the city are experiencing outbreaks. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Masking at long-term care homes became mandatory in November by the Ministry of Long-Term Care based on advice from Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health.

According to records from the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), eight long-term care and retirement homes in London are experiencing outbreaks. Health officials said that they consider sickness an outbreak is when two or more cases are confirmed to have happened in the same home.

Long-term care and retirement homes with active COVID-19 outbreaks as of Dec. 4: 

  • McCormick Home – Nov. 25.

  • Maple View Terrace – Nov. 23.

  • Longworth Retirement Residence – Nov 20.

  • Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care – Nov. 13.

  • Grand Wood Park Apartments and Retirement Residence – Nov. 10.

  • Country Terrace – Nov. 9.

  • Amica London – Nov. 8.

  • Fox Hollow Retirement Home – Nov. 5.

In a statement emailed to CBC News, a spokesperson for McCormick Home said that during the ongoing outbreak at their facility caregivers must wear N95 masks, residents are requested to remain within their home area and group activity sizes are shrunk down.

They’re also doing temperature and wellness checks twice daily for all residents.

woman with glasses
Dr. Joanne Kearon is the associate medical officer of health at the Middlesex London Health Unit. She says while the number of outbreaks aren’t dramatically increasing, they’re not dropping either. (Provided by MLHU)

While there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in outbreaks at these facilities, the health unit hasn’t seen numbers go down the way they normally would, said Dr. Joanne Kearon, the MLHU’s associate medical officer of health.

“It  represents the fact that there is a large degree of COVID-19 transmission in the community. However, the size of the outbreaks aren’t as large and the outcomes aren’t as severe,” Kearon said.

For anyone planning on visiting their loved ones, she said that hand-washing, staying home if sick, masking up and keeping up with vaccinations are all important steps to take to keep vulnerable family members safe.

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