COVID testing is not working out well at the Church Street site

The CBC says that some people getting tested at the recently-opened Church Street COVID testing centre are having to wait more than two weeks to get their results.

“What’s the whole point of going in for tests if you don’t even get the results until after the quarantine time? There’s no point. It defeats the whole purpose,” she said.

Faisal Hassan, NDP MPP for York South-Weston, says he received more than 25 complaints in a week about people waiting for test results from the Church Street assessment centre.

He says residents were concerned that without a result, they couldn’t return to work, go to school, or visit and provide essential care to loved ones in long-term care homes.

“We have been [identified] as a hotspot area and these delays are totally unacceptable,” he said.

The hospital told the CBC that their typical turnaround is three to five days.

In addition to the burdens they place on those being tested, long turnarounds make contact tracing impossible.

COVID rates in Weston are “alarming”

Frances Nunziata says that the COVID positivity rate in Weston is “alarming”.

New data that was reported this week on the overall percent of COVID-19 test positivity rates by neighbourhood indicates that rates in York South—Weston are alarming and disproportionately high compared to other parts of Toronto.

The city’s official numbers haven’t been released, but a Toronto ER doctor published a table that says Weston’s positivity rate is 8.3%—not, thankfully, the highest in the city, but still far above the “3% [that] should prompt shutdowns”

Weston has seen 68 new cases in the past three weeks, an increase of 11 over last week. Eight of the cases occurred in healthcare facilities.

Schools in Weston, however, have largely been free of COVID infections. Pelmo Park had one case in a teacher, but no other cases have occurred in schools in Weston. (There has been a handful of cases in schools that receive students from Weston.)

COVID is under control in YSW

COVID appears to be coming under control in Pelmo, Weston, and Mount Dennis, with only a handful of cases reported in the past 21 days.

In the past 21 days, there have been three cases of community transmission in Weston, four in Mount Dennis, and only 1 in Pelmo. The north-west part of the city continues to be the worst hit, however.

 

Pelmo is sick with COVID

The Pelmo Park–Humberlea neighbourhood, part of which is in the area most people would call Weston, has the highest rate of new community-spread COVID cases in the city.

Pelmo Park–Humberlea includes the Pelmo neighbourhood south of the 401, as well as an area to the north of the 401 and  west of the 400.Map of Pelmo Park

Pelmo Park–Humberlea has had 17 new “sporadic” cases in the past 21 days, out of a population of about 10,000. That gives it an infection rate of 159 per 100,000 people, by far the highest in the city—the average rate is 28. (“Sporadic” cases occur outside a healthcare facility).

On the one hand, this may be a statistical blip: 17 cases isn’t a huge number. On the other hand, it is the highest rate in the city in the statistic I think we should care most about: new cases of community spread.

COVID continues to be a problem in the northwest part of the city. In Weston proper, we have had 13 new cases in the past 21 days, and we rank a dismal 9th-worst for new infection rates.

By contrast, more than 10% of the city’s neighbourhoods have had no new cases at all.

Including outbreaks in healthcare facilities makes the picture even darker. Humber Heights (just across the river), Weston, and Mount Dennis have been three of the four worst-hit neighbourhoods in Toronto.

Frances Nunziata says she prompted Joe Cressy, the Chair of Toronto Public Health, to write a letter to the Ontario Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer. The letter explains Cressy’s hypotheses around why COVID has been so prevalent here: race, income, reduced access to health services, and household crowding.

He calls on the province to provide:

  • Increased testing, including mobile testing
  • Accommodation for people needing to isolate
  • Increased data collection
  • Improved protections for workers
  • Faster test results

 

 

 

 

Long Term Care Homes

A few years ago my father-in-law was a resident in a local, well known long-term care home. This was when homes were better funded and unlike today (thank you Mike Harris), the home was non-profit. He was recovering from a series of minor strokes, had Parkinson’s disease, was incontinent and while he could walk around, had been reduced to a child-like state.

My elderly and disabled mother-in-law visited him daily and it was soon obvious that there was a disquieting and sinister undercurrent running through the place. Many of the residents were physically disabled – victims of strokes or accidents and they and their relatives lived in fear of retaliation by staff if they spoke out about conditions in the home. My MIL discovered that at mealtimes, residents would be served and the meal would often be untouched after 30 minutes when it would be removed. Like several others, she ended up hiring an attendant to feed her husband so that he wouldn’t die of starvation.

At the home, staff had somehow persuaded management that uniforms were authoritarian and intimidating, so they wandered around indistinguishable from visitors. Residents would be left in soiled diapers for hours and changed grudgingly as if it was a great favour. Many residents were tied to their chairs so they wouldn’t be a nuisance between mealtimes. I was drafted to write letters, put on a suit and do battle with management (several times) and things slowly improved for my FIL. Sadly, few others had relatives who could or would do this. In those days, the only alternative, home care, was even less adequate than it is today.

Fast forward to the pandemic of 2020 and behold the sight of Premier Ford blinking  with emotion and surprise that the Canadian Armed Forces had reported squalid conditions and seemingly criminal neglect in the care homes where they had been assigned.

Long Term Care Minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton seems equally bemused but that’s better than admitting that the reason might be that the Ford government reduced funding and inspections (an average home can now expect a full inspection once every 100 years). Add to that years of neglect by governments of all parties and long term care residents were sitting targets. Upwards of 80% of Ontario Covid-19 deaths have been in care homes. The highest rates have been in homes that were for profit. This was largely due to a lack of direction from Minister Fullerton and the systemic exploitation of low-paid agency workers, forced  to work in several locations in order to make a living.

Health Minister (and former Long Term Health Care Minister) Christine Elliott claims to know nothing about long term care home conditions but she may have a short memory.

The Feds no doubt are secretly pleased that the Army embarrassed Ford but they’ve got skin in the game.

There’s no shortage of blame to go round. Read about the Armed Forces report here and the actual document here.

Ford will resist holding an inquiry or changing the legislation. He’ll hope that the heat will die down and the public will be satisfied with a few dramatic band-aid gestures.

That won’t cut it.

If we’re stuck with private companies running long term care homes for a profit, there should be strong legislation to safeguard residents including standards of care, staffing levels, supervisory community involvement and rigorous, frequent, meaningful inspections.

Let’s see if Premier Ford’s tears are real or theatrical.

Local hospital ahead of the curve.

Humber River Hospital (CNW Group/Humber River Hospital) From Wikipedia.

If you saw this pandemic coming in January or even February, you’re not alone. Many Canadians watched in dismay while various politicians and their medical officers of health basically twiddled around. We were also told that face masks were ineffective but that’s another story.

There’s a Toronto company called Blue Dot and they analyze masses of data using artificial intelligence. Blue Dot was able to predict the spread of Zika along with other diseases using huge amounts of data that is mostly publicly available. They analyze this data and present conclusions to clients who can then plan accordingly. Blue Dot saw the Covid-19 pandemic coming as early as December and knew where and how it would spread from Wuhan long before any of our local experts or politicians did. The CBS show 60 Minutes covered Humber River Hospital’s use of Blue Dot’s services and it’s quite impressive to see what the application of artificial intelligence can do during a pandemic.

Let’s hope that some intelligent thinking and data usage will be used to guide lifting of the lockdown so that Canada can successfully emerge from its current medically induced coma.

Action needed on care homes.

Locally, residents at local retirement / long-term care homes at Humber Heights and West Park are enduring severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many other care homes are battling outbreaks throughout the province. Half of Ontario’s (291 as of April 14) COVID-19 death toll has been from care-home residents. As of last Friday, 99 of Ontario’s 629 care homes were reporting infections.

29 residents have died in a 65-bed nursing home in Bobcaygeon . The Ontario Health Ministry has secured help for the home from private company Extendicare; curiously the same people who run West Park’s Long Term Care Centre, currently undergoing its own COVID-19 outbreak. In fact the CBC has the story of a resident at West Park Long Term Care who says that the place is grossly understaffed and residents are being neglected. The resident, fearing retaliation from staff asked to remain anonymous.

Some care home staff have been staying home, fearful of being infected or infecting family members because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Astonishingly, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams waited until last week before requiring workers to wear masks in care homes. Personal care staff are often required to work in more than one location to make ends meet (full time work is often denied to them so that care homes and agencies can avoid paying benefits).

Premier Ford’s mother-in-law is a long-term care resident at West Park and the premier says it breaks his heart to see his wife Carla helplessly standing outside her mother’s window in tears. While Ford says that it’s ‘very very difficult’ for hundreds of thousands of families right now, there doesn’t seem to be a lot being done. “We’re doing everything we can.“, is often all that he can muster, a comment echoed by health minister Christine Elliott.

Sorry Premier, Minister Elliott, Dr. Williams, that’s not good enough.

While many of these homes are privately run facilities, they are largely taxpayer funded and subsidized. Many years of underfunding by Liberals and (now) Conservatives is a big part of the problem.

Since half of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths are occurring in care homes, here are some urgent questions on the following:

  • How will you stop the further spread of COVID-19 in care homes?
  • What measures are you taking to ensure adequate PPE is getting to these facilities?
  • How are you ensuring that there are adequate staff levels?
  • Will you end staff being forced to work part-time at several care homes in order to make a living (currently it’s only a recommendation from MOH Dr. Williams)?
  • Will funding be increased to support long term care homes now and in the future?
  • Will you authorize an immediate, substantial pay rise for front-line health care workers?
  • Will you test every resident and worker in long term care homes?

Until these points are addressed Premier, you’re not doing everything you can.

Update 1: Premier Ford announced today that as of midnight on Tuesday April 14, care workers will be banned from working at more than one establishment. The province will top up any lost wages.

Update 2: It turns out that Mr Ford is only applying this measure for two weeks. Is there an emoji for ‘facepalm’?

Update 3: After reading the fine print, the unsettling news is that this brief measure doesn’t apply to agency workers. Read the depressing details here.