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COVID-19 outbreaks in steep decline at B.C. hospitals, care homes

Mandatory vaccination for health staff, visitors paying off
An ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Lion’s Gate Hospital and Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver were the first sites of major COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C. (The Canadian Press)

COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C. hospitals and senior homes fell to just four this week, down from dozens at times over the past year, and Health Minister Adrian Dix credits strict vaccination requirements for staff and visitors for the improvement.

Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have also credited booster doses of vaccine for elderly people, whose weaker immune systems make them far more vulnerable to “breakthrough” infections after having two doses of vaccine.

“At the end of October we had approximately 20 long-term care outbreaks, six acute care outbreaks, three assisted living outbreaks,” Dix said at a pandemic briefing Nov. 30. “So the impact of the measures that have been taken, both mandatory vaccination, booster doses and the efforts that are being made with respect to visitors, have had a real effect.”

Some of the most stubborn outbreaks have occurred at areas of Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, which was recently dealing with multiple areas in outbreak protocol at the same time. Henry says acute care hospitals deal with a higher risk because they cannot restrict who comes in for treatment.

“I think it is very clear that acute care outbreaks can spread quite rapidly,” Henry said. “And part of that is patients who are coming in from the community who have the undetected disease, and then it’s detected after it’s spread within the hospital system.”

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Henry often emphasizes “layers of protection,” and for hospital visitors that includes proof of vaccination, mandatory hand sanitizer and masks, and screening questions to detect any respiratory symptoms. Visitors are limited to two at a time in most care areas.

Two of B.C.’s deadliest care home outbreaks were at Tabor Home in Abbotsford and Langley Lodge in late 2020, before vaccination was complete for residents and staff. Tabor Home had more than 150 confirmed infections, about a third of them among staff, and 25 deaths attributed to COVID-19 by early December 2020.

The most difficult care environments for infection control are dementia units, where residents wander and mix with each other unless they are blocked by doors or restrained.


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