Outbreaks at Calgary Zone seniors living facilities double over four-day reporting period

Much like the first wave of the pandemic, it appears seniors in the Calgary area face an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 as more outbreaks are being identified in congregate living settings.

“I think it was inevitable. You know, the more cases there are in the community, the more people in the high-risk groups are at risk of infection. And people living in these facilities are by far the highest risk," said Andre Picard, a Globe and Mail health reporter and author of Neglected No More, which examines seniors care in Canada in the wake of COVID-19.

“They are vaccinated, but the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective. It's less effective with people with rundown immune systems, which older people tend to be. So they are once again sitting ducks.”

According to the province, there are currently 135 declared COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta, up from 101 outbreaks announced Friday. Outbreaks at long-term care centres and supportive living facilities in the Calgary Zone have gone up from six to 12 during that time.

The majority of the new outbreaks in seniors living facilities in the Calgary Zone are in Calgary but there is one in Strathmore and one in Carstairs.

During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, the province imposed severe lockdowns on seniors facilities, but gradually lifted them.

In July 2021 almost all restrictions on visitation at continuing care facilities were lifted. Picard agrees locking families out of care facilities is a bad move.

“I think that should be a last resort, we know that it has a lot of consequences. People literally died of loneliness," he said.

"We know that people are very dependent on their families to do stuff, like feed them and bathe them. These homes are chronically understaffed, they can't operate without the families. So we have to find a way of ensuring that the families can get in. They should be vaccinated, they should be masked, but we can't shut them out. Again, I think that was a disastrous policy.”

Outbreaks have been declared several facilities, including:

Long term care facilities

  • AgeCare Midnapore, Calgary
  • AgeCare Sagewood, Strathmore
  • AgeCare Seton, Calgary
  • Bethany, Calgary
  • Carewest Colonel Belcher, Calgary
  • Intercare Brentwood Care Centre, Calgary

Supportive living facilities

  • Boardwalk Retirement Community, Calgary
  • Chinook Winds Lodge, Carstairs - two cases total (two active)
  • Evanston Summit - Covenant Living, Calgary
  • Revera Scenic Acres, Calgary
  • The Journey Club, Calgary
  • Trinity Lodge Retirement Residence, Calgary

CTV News attempted to reach all the Calgary seniors facilities experiencing outbreaks. Only Carewest responded to questions.

In an email, Carewest spokesperson Samara Sinclair confirmed that one staff member and one resident at the Colonel Belcher facility have contracted COVID-19.

She added that all other residents on the affected unit were tested and close contacts were notified.

Staff must wear eye protection and masks at all times. Any resident showing symptoms will be required to isolate.

The facility is also offer in on location rapid testing.

The province defines an outbreak as two or more positive cases.

Third doses of vaccine have been available to an estimated 118,000 eligible seniors and immunocompromised individuals in Alberta since Sept. 1 after the province stated there is evidence that immunity from vaccines can wane over time.

The province says third shots should be administered within five months of the second dose, as some pharmacies are seeing increasing demand for vaccine appointments.

Picard maintains that preventing community spread of COVID=19 is even more important than triple dosing seniors in protecting the elderly in care facilities.

” It's a direct cause and effect, the more virus circulates in the community, the more virus gets into facilities where the highest risk people are.”

The elderly were especially vulnerable when the pandemic first began and the demographic experienced some of the most severe outcomes of the virus. The current doubling in outbreaks coincides with the rampant spread of the highly virulent Delta variant in the current fourth wave.