COVID-19 outbreaks growing in Alberta care homes as transmission rises

Alberta care homes are once again battling a growing number of COVID-19 outbreaks. According to the pprovince 160 new COVID outbreaks have been declared in the province's long-term care and supportive living facilities since Sept. 1.

160 new outbreaks declared since beginning of September

Alberta Health says 160 COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared in continuing care homes since the beginning of September. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Alberta care homes are once again battling a growing number of COVID-19 outbreaks.

According to the province, 160 new COVID outbreaks have been declared in long-term care and supportive living facilities across the province since Sept. 1.

72 residents have been hospitalized and 33 have died.

"It can be quite trying," said Andrea Barnes.

Her mother's assisted living facility is just getting through another COVID outbreak that left the 90-year-old facing meals in her room once again — and fewer visits with friends and family.

"It makes things…difficult especially on a 90-year-old. It just plays on the psyche," said Barnes.

"It does create some issues especially on their mental health. And my mom is having  issues cognitively in her short-term memory. And so it's a lot to explain over and over." 

She's also worried her mom, who had COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic, could get sick again.

'People are still dying'

The number of open care home outbreaks sat at 71 on Sept. 19. By Oct. 17, there were 102.

"COVID hasn't gone away," said Wayne Morishita, executive director of the Alberta Continuing Care Association.

 "People are still dying of COVID…While the majority [of cases] have been mild, it's not a guarantee certainly."

Morishita started noticing an uptick in outbreaks once summer vacation ended and people returned to school and work.

 "Just like the community, we're starting to see the slight rise," he said.

"[But] it's definitely a lot lower [than] when Omicron first surfaced in January of this year and even in the spring."

Dr. Samir Sinha is the director of geriatrics with the Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto. He says outbreaks are increasing in care homes around the country. (Tiffany Foxcroft/CBC)

It's a trend that's playing out in the Calgary-area care homes run by the Brenda Strafford Foundation.

"We are seeing a few more cases therefore we're seeing more outbreaks that are coming out," said Carolyne Mondoux, a vice-president with the foundation.

Cases are often coming in from the community either through visitors or staff, she said, noting that an outbreak is declared when there are two or more cases are connected to one another.

"If there's an increase in the community, there's an increased risk that the virus is coming into the sites. Despite having the best practices to try and keep our sites clean it's something that can happen."

According to Mondoux, the foundation's residents are experiencing fairly mild symptoms this time around — including a hoarse voice or a sore throat. 

Getting vaccinated, she said, has played a key role in that. Bivalent boosters are currently being provided at their facilities to residents who want them.

"We're not seeing what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic with an increase in hospitalizations or death. These can absolutely still happen and it just depends on the resident."

Carolyne Mondoux, with the Brenda Strafford Foundation, said she's seen an uptick in cases at the foundation's Calgary-area facilities over the last two to three weeks. (Submitted by The Brenda Strafford Foundation)

COVID-19 still a 'big threat' 

It is unclear, though, how many active and recovered cases are associated with the recent outbreaks.

CBC asked for that information but it was not released. Alberta Health spokesperson Lisa Glover told CBC News COVID-19 outbreaks are now being tracked similarly to other viruses including influenza.

"Due to these reporting changes, some data sets, such as individual facilities and their active cases are no longer available," she said in an emailed statement.

"The availability of COVID-19 vaccines has reduced the number of severe outcomes in continuing care compared to previous waves."

Without that key data the true severity of the situation, including the case fatality rate and the potential impact of waning immunity, is difficult to judge, according to  Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Sinai Health Systems and the University Health Network in Toronto. 

"There's no reason why we shouldn't have data like this. It really tells us how we are doing. It helps us maintain a level of accountability," he said.

According to Sinha, care home outbreaks are rising across the country.

"We have to remember [COVID-19] still is a big threat and a big risk in our care homes. This is where we still are seeing a lot of people unfortunately dying."

With community transmission rising Sinha said it's important Alberta push ahead with its bivalent booster roll-out, ensuring that all those who are eligible get their shots.

He added that the general public should take the virus seriously.

"While mentally people might say it's over for me in the community, it's not that big a deal, we still have to remember there are vulnerable populations living in care homes, but also living in our communities. for whom this is not over," he said.

"The actions that all of us are taking can really impact the health and well being of vulnerable people especially in vulnerable settings."


Jennifer Lee


Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know.