Defective ventilation system may have caused COVID-19 outbreak at Vigi Mont-Royal

vigi mont royal

By Kelly Greig, CTV Montreal

MONTREAL -- Every day, Elektra Lekatis visits her parents at the long-term care home Vigi Mont-Royal, a privately-owned residence where, as of Tuesday, 64 people have died from COVID-19.

Lekatis’ parents have both tested positive for the virus. She visits them through a window. 

Documents obtained by CTV News say staff who wore masks to protect themselves from the virus still tested positive, and that a malfunctioning ventilation system may be to blame. They now wear full personal protective equipment. 

“To see them really suited up like this after two months when you think you’re taking a step forward and not a step back, it’s really frustrating,” Lekatis said. 

Though Vigi Mont-Royal is a private residence, it’s under the purview of the CIUSSS West Central Montreal. It says an investigation into the building was launched after healthcare workers wearing the proper gear became ill. 

“It was determined that the ventilation system was malfunctioning,” the CIUSSS said, adding that the problems have since been fixed.

But there are still worries. An international memo obtained by CTV News shows that as of May 8, staff can only spend two hours inside the building before they have to take a break, and full personal protective equipment is required to enter. 

The measures apply to all workers, including 50 Canadian Armed Forces soldiers stationed at the residence. 

“We were informed a couple of days ago that there may be a presence of the virus in the ventilation system,” said Captain Frederic Caron of the Canadian Armed Forces. “Hence the N95 masks we are wearing.” 

The COVID-19 virus spreads through droplets – the World Health Organization studied over 75,000 cases in China, and not a single one was transmitted by air. But it didn’t rule out that airborne transmission is possible, especially if the virus is suspended in a fine spray or mist. 

“It has unusual persistence in the air when compared to the predecessors MERS and SARS,” said Christian Jacob, president of the Quebec Association of Microbiologists. 

The Vigi Santé, which owns the residence, said it ordered air quality tests at its homes, including the Reine-Elizabeth in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and the Vigi in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. 

Quebec’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said addressing filtration is a step in the right direction but maintains that the risk of transmission by air is slim. 

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