45 residents of this Calgary highrise have caught COVID-19 but outbreak's cause remains unknown
Resident says lack of clarity has put unfair stigma on building, occupants
The first Tatjana Dunn heard about an active COVID-19 case in her Calgary condo building was via an email from her landlord on June 10.
Her landlord was notified by the building's management company the previous day.
Then, more than a week later, her friends started sending her messages: her 25-storey highrise building was in the news.
"I was fearful that I had exposed my friends and loved ones to the virus unknowingly, also a little bit afraid of the building," Dunn said.
Alberta Health Services officially declared an outbreak at The Verve, a condo building in the city's East Village, on June 22, according to a statement from a spokesperson.
As of Sunday there were 45 COVID-19 cases — 34 active and 11 recovered. Three people were in hospital as of Thursday.
The outbreak has led to Calgary-Centre being put under a "watch" for its COVID-19 rate by the province.
Dunn is confused about how the virus spread through her building and feels the highrise and its residents have been unfairly stigmatized.
From what Dunn has seen, the building's common spaces are clean and protocols are in place to ensure people enter and leave the building safely.
Amenities are shut down, a lounge where people would normally gather is closed and all the furniture has been removed, and Dunn said staff throughout the building wear masks.
"Maybe somebody had a gathering they know they weren't supposed to have," she said.
The 288-unit building includes retail on the ground floor. Those living in the five-floor podium base have a separate entryway and elevator from those living in the tower.
Dunn said she and her housemate are looking for answers and have questions for AHS.
"I would ask them which floors were affected, and if there's any patterns or clusters to be aware of within specific locations in the building. I'd also really want to know if there's anybody who has come forward about a gathering or something like that," she said. "Because there's been nothing noted, anything is an option."
Most cases have no known exposure
Much of what Dunn is looking to find out is under investigation.
Most of the cases have no known exposure and no clear link with other people in the building, that AHS officials have found. The investigation is trying to track whether there were person-to-person transmissions, and investigators are also looking at surface spread.
AHS said investigators will be on site looking at high-touch surfaces as a potential source of transmission and plan to do environmental sampling this week — which includes testing air, surfaces and water.
Health Canada has said close contact between people is the most common way the novel coronavirus is spread, and it's not yet known how long the virus persists on different surfaces.
Cleaner says Airbnb units were still operating
Cassandra Raugust owns of All Details, a small business that cleans four units in the Verve building that are used as Airbnb rentals.
She said she was there cleaning units every other day for the last month — cleaning up after travellers who had left behind airline tickets from places like Toronto and Winnipeg.
She said she was notified by a realtor on June 20 that there were two cases in the building.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, first mentioned the outbreak in her June 19 update. At that time, she said a highrise building in Calgary had 12 cases. She didn't name the building.
Airbnb has continued to operate during the pandemic.
Raugust is currently awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, as she worries she may have contracted the illness on the job.
We're just going to continue to stay diligent.-Tatjana Dunn, resident of Verve in Calgary
Hinshaw has urged the importance of not stigmatizing a location or specific group of people because it's critical that those who come forward and get tested doesn't suffer negative consequences and continue to cooperate with officials.
"Every measure that needs to be taken to prevent spread is being undertaken," Hinshaw said. "Alberta Health Services is working with that group of people and getting a lot of support from that building management group.
AHS said when an increase in cases in the building was identified, public health inspectors visited the site to inspect food establishments and housing areas.
"Appropriate measures to reduce transmission were already in place at that time, including enhanced cleaning practices, and no concerning lapses in procedure were identified," the emailed statement read.
The management company, FirstService Residential, has kept residents up to date with numerous emails, which CBC News has reviewed. AHS held a town hall this week for residents of Verve, and another one is planned for this week. Onsite testing has also been made available.
Dunn said she lined up and got her negative results quickly, though she noticed many in the line didn't wear a mask.
Close friends of hers have also tested negative.
"We're just going to continue to stay diligent," she said. "Continuing to follow the recommended protocols of frequently washing our hands, wearing masks, limiting those in your home and how often we are in public spaces."
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener