Growing calls for routine COVID-19 screening in care homes to protect seniors
VANCOUVER -- Despite more than 180 residents of long-term care homes in B.C. dying because of COVID-19, care workers are still not being tested proactively to ensure they are not infected.
And some families say that needs to change.
“It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. You’re going to save possibly a lot of lives,” says Jo-Anne Morris.
Her 89-year-old mom lives at Langley Lodge, where there have been three COVID-19 outbreaks. The second one proved the most deadly in the province, killing 26 residents.
“It gut wrenches you. You really worry. You don’t want anybody else to go through what these families have gone through at Langley Lodge,” Morris says.
Each outbreak at the lodge, as is the case with many care centres, was linked to an infected staff member.
“The primary mechanism by which COVID gets into our facilities is through infected staff that have acquired it in the community,” says Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, Fraser Health’s chief medical health officer.
That has led to growing calls for B.C. care home workers to be routinely tested.
“The best way to ensure there isn’t an outbreak is adequate screening,” says Terry Lake of the BC Care Home Providers Association.
“Our testing regime is the one week area that I’ve like to see strengthened."
He says seniors deserve the same level of testing as NHL hockey players received.
“In the Stanley cup, we had NHL players tested everyday…and it’s really priorities, and this is the most vulnerable population that we have in terms of COVID-19, and we should be doing everything to protect them.”
But BC Seniors Advocate Isobel McKenzie isn’t so sure that routine testing is the answer.
“The last study that I saw showed a thousand tests of asymptomatic to produce one test positive. And so these are the trade-offs,” says McKenzie.
But given the length of the pandemic, she said "it is worth examining whether there should be a testing strategy specific to workers in all health care settings. As we see more and more emerging evidence around asymptomatic.”
Even Fraser Health doesn’t think routine testing is the answer.
“Random testing of asymptomatic individuals is not particularly helpful. However, targeted testing in circumstances where there is concern about transmission is very useful,” says Brodkin, who adds that most outbreaks that began with an infected staff member did not spread beyond that one person.
Meanwhile, Hospital Employees’ Union spokesperson Mike Old says right now it’s important to focus COVID-19 testing capacity where it’s needed.
“And at this point, the main area of concern is with community outbreaks,” Old said in a statement to CTV News.
“Regular testing of all workers in health care settings where there is not an outbreak is not currently the practice,” he said. “A change in this practice should be informed by public health guidance based on the science and best practices, and we look forward to reviewing any new developments on that front."
But the hesitation by health officials has some families calling for a more proactive approach.
Morris believes workers would rather be tested than risk the burden of causing yet another care home outbreak.