Push for rapid testing as B.C. care homes battle 4 major COVID-19 outbreaks
VANCOUVER -- COVID-19 continues to devastate care homes in B.C., particularly in the Fraser Health region where there are currently four large outbreaks in seniors’ facilities.
In addition to Tabor Home in Abbotsford, where 16 residents have died and 136 residents and staff have tested positive, there are also large outbreaks at Fellburn Care Centre, Finnish Manor and White Rock Seniors Village.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, the chief medical health officer for the region, 83 residents and staff have contracted the virus at Fellburn in Burnaby, and seven people have died. At Finish Manor, there have been 58 cases and seven deaths. White Rock Seniors Village has had three people die and a total of 50 people infected.
“It’s retraumatizing. It’s so sad to hear that so many of my colleagues are going through this. And the severity of some of these outbreaks, it’s heartbreaking, and I know what they’re gong through,” said Debra Hauptman. She runs Langley Lodge, which lost 26 residents to COVID-19 in the deadliest care home outbreak B.C. has seen.
“We have dealt with flu outbreaks very successfully. We found this to be our worst nightmare,” she said.
Hauptman wants Langley Lodge to be part of a pilot project to bring rapid testing to B.C. care homes.
“It’s extremely critical that we have this option. We’re asking please, let us try it,” she said.
The pilot project is being proposed by the BC Care Providers Association, which wants to see how effective testing is at keeping the virus out of care homes.
“That way, not only can we ensure we don’t have these outbreaks affecting residents and staff, but we might be able to reunite families, especially as we approach Christmas. Because it’s been heartbreaking to see the separation of families,” said Terry Lake, CEO of the BCCPA.
“I think if we had done more work sooner, we’d be in a better place today,” he added.
His association wants to partner with one of the health authorities for the pilot project, but says his organization will forge ahead on its own if necessary.
Proactive testing is already being done in some care facilities in Ontario. Manitoba is also working on a plan.
Lake said the testing in a pilot project would likely be done three times a week.
"And of course, people who test positive on the antigen test would be sent for a PCR test to confirm whether or not that’s a real positive,” he explained.
The chief medical health officer for Fraser Health said rapid testing in care homes is under consideration, but she has reservations.
“It is not a perfect answer because it is only a point in time. So if you test someone on Monday and it’s negative, it tells you they don’t have virus on Monday but it doesn’t tell you they won’t have virus on Tuesday or Wednesday,” said Dr. Brodkin.
She also said there are concerns that staff could become too reliant on the test.
“I know there is some concern if these were introduced in long-term care facilities, they might back off on some of the other things they are doing, which would be a big mistake,” she said.
But Lake believes any concerns can be addressed.
“We do not propose this to take the place of the protocols we have in place. This is a tool on top of those other tools."
“There is no appetite to relax any of the protocols we have in place. We do not want another outbreak to the extent we had,” she explained.
“It’s extremely critical that we have this option. We’re asking please, let us try it.”
Meanwhile, CTV News has not been able to determine whether there are equally large care home outbreaks in Vancouver Coastal Health, which has refused to provide that information.
In an email response, the health authority wrote in part that the “circumstances of each outbreak - including the number of cases -- can evolve rapidly, and it causes unnecessary stress to the families of residents and patients to have information publicly misreported."