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Nurses testing Royal Brock residents after COVID outbreak declared

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Nurses at the Royal Brock Retirement Residence were testing all the facility’s residents on Monday after health officials declared a COVID-19 outbreak there last week, the region’s medical officer of health confirmed.

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“They are being very, very careful,” Dr. Paula Stewart said Monday, adding so far the only confirmed case was the one woman who tested positive last week. She is a health-care worker and staff member at the facility.

While the Royal Brock outbreak had not yet affected residents there, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit reported Monday that three more long-term care residents in the tri-county area had died of COVID-19, bringing the total number of fatalities to 46.

The latest health unit count, based on data from 4 p.m. Sunday, saw 319 lab-confirmed cases in the area, up by five from the previous count and including the 46 deaths.

The health unit total continued to lag slightly behind the provincial count, which reported 324 cases locally.

Of the 46 deaths, 43 were in long-term care and three in the community.

At the Royal Brock, some residents who had COVID-19 symptoms have already been tested and those tests have come back negative, added Stewart.

Residents at the seniors’ facility have been isolated in their rooms for 14 days to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, she added.

While COVID-19 has been in the community for weeks now, outbreaks in long-term care and retirement facilities had been confined to Lanark County until the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit on Friday reported one staff member at the Royal Brock has tested positive for COVID-19.

The staff member was home under self-isolation.

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Jenifer Willis, director of care at the Royal Brock, said the facility has approximately 80 residents and they were isolated immediately as a precaution when the outbreak was declared.

The outbreak does not affect the seniors’ apartment building located on the Royal Brock property, she added.

In normal times, an outbreak is declared when there are two cases of a disease, because it would confirm that transmission has occurred, said Stewart. But the COVID-19 pandemic is an emergency situation, with a highly infectious virus, so officials waste no time and declare an outbreak as soon as one case is detected.

“It’s aggressive, for a reason,” she said of that response.

Seniors’ facilities are the hardest-hit by COVID-19, and public health officials are not relaxing their guard, said Stewart.

Staff at such facilities are now being screened for symptoms before coming to work, and once during the work shift, she said.

“This is how the staff person was picked up. She screened positive for symptoms, and didn’t work when symptomatic,” Stewart added in a subsequent email.

“A person can be infectious for a day or two before symptoms develop (Monday, Tuesday of last week). So this is why we are doing the testing of residents.”

There is no telling where the staff member picked up the virus, said Stewart, adding this reinforces the importance of anyone with symptoms going to the Brockville assessment centre, at the Memorial Centre community hall, to be tested.

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On the weekend, Brockville Mayor Jason Baker said the community stands in solidarity with the retirement residence’s inhabitants and staff.

“It’s heartbreaking, for sure,” Baker said as he headed out on the second Community Strong Food Drive on Saturday morning.

“We’ve worked very hard to try and avoid it. Now that it’s happened, the first thing and the foremost thing is to make sure the Royal Brock knows they’re not alone in this and that the community’s going to support them, the city of Brockville’s going to get them anything and everything that they need to help contain it.”

Unlike other municipalities in the region, Brockville has not declared a municipal state of emergency during the pandemic crisis, and Baker on Saturday said he does not yet see the need to do so now.

“We’ll have a look at it but we’re really tracking the capacity of the hospital as a measurement as to whether we would state an emergency,” said the mayor.

“We’ll be in very close contact continuously with the hospital on this if this starts to spread.”

Also Monday, Brockville General Hospital president and chief executive officer Nick Vlacholias confirmed a current inpatient at the hospital has COVID-19, adding the case is not related to the Royal Brock situation.

Vlacholias said that, even as the province contemplates gradually reopening the economy, precautions now in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, such as physical distancing and frequent hand-washing, will have to remain in place for the estimated 18 to 24 months until a vaccine is developed.

“We still have to be vigilant,” said Vlacholias.

The province is expected to resume elective surgical procedures in “a slow, methodical process,” based on regional co-ordination and the availability of personal protective equipment and hospital beds, he added.

While the Brockville hospital currently has enough PPE, it is working with its suppliers to address a shortage of disposable gowns for staff.

“It’s a worldwide shortage; it’s not just a local shortage,” said Vlacholias.

Rzajac@postmedia.com

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