Dr. Bonnie Henry responds to South China Morning Post article on COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes

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      This week, the South China Morning Post reported that 192 people have died in Metro Vancouver long-term care homes that delayed declaring an outbreak of COVID-19.

      This reportedly came after "low-risk" staff became ill, according to the article by Ian Young, and were placed under "enhanced surveillance".

      Another 1,000 people became ill at 42 of these homes, according to the article, which relied on data released through a freedom-of-information request.

      On May 13, Global News B.C. reporter Richard Zussman asked provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry how concerned people should be, given that there wasn't a declaration of an outbreak in these homes when these staff became ill.

      Below, you can read Dr. Henry's response.

      "I think we've learned a lot as we went through this pandemic. And we have outbreak management protocols that we put in place very early on.

      “Initially, they were based on what we did for influenza, which usually has at least one sick resident or transmission within a facility. And then we recognized that that was not sensitive enough. It did not catch outbreaks early enough with this new virus—COVID.

      “So it was—the public health teams looked at where we were seeing transmission and, you remember early on, how rapidly it would spread between, within facilities. So we do declare an outbreak with a single staff with exposure within the facility or a single resident in the facility. And that was across the board.

      “Where we had some clinical judgement was if there was a single staff person who had not been in the facility during the period of time of their infectiousness or had been fully adherent with the infection control precautions, like wearing a PPE. Then there was a judgement made about the risk. And that was an enhanced surveillance where we did some extra monitoring and testing and then if testing showed that anybody else was positive, then an outbreak was declared.

      “So it was a way of making sure that we weren't overly cautious, and putting in place those very severe measures that an outbreak entailed. And we know how hard it was on seniors and elders in long-term care.

      “There were many, many cases where there were low-risk health-care worker exposures. They may have become exposed in the community, then sick, but not been in a risky environment within the facility during the period of time they were infectious. So many of those—most of those—did not result in an outbreak. But those are the guidance that public health was following and was very meticulous about over the fall and winter.”