Coronavirus: B.C. senior’s death raises questions about isolation risk at nursing homes

Public health officials are urging people take extra infection control steps around older Canadians most at risk of developing COVID-19 complications, with the death of a Vancouver senior providing fresh imperative for vigilance in long-term care facilities.

News that the man in his 80s had died over the weekend coincided with assurances by various provinces that the well-being of nursing home residents was paramount.

Ontario’s health minister announced ramped-up screening and testing procedures, while Nova Scotia outlined a two-week waiting period for any out-of-country traveller who wanted to visit a nursing home.

Laura Tamblyn Watts, policy director at the National Initiative for Care of the Elderly (NICE), welcomed additional precautions but was wary of restrictions that “can be just as damaging” to a population prone to social isolation.

“It is such a vulnerable population to many forms of illness but in particular this COVID-19,” acknowledged Tamblyn Watts.

“We will certainly see increased protocols, I think across the board, for long-term care. The challenge, however, is when you have older people who are at risk of social isolation — it’s very upsetting for them to be in isolation in many instances. And if you have people with cognitive impairment, they may not understand why no one is coming to visit them.”

Ontario’s health ministry said Monday it was introducing “active surveillance” in which staff, volunteers, visitors and residents who come and go would be screened for symptoms and asked about travel history.

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