Agonizing from a distance: 13 people have died and 55 have COVID-19 at Anson Place

It's an anxious Easter weekend for families with loved ones at Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville.

The anxiety is harder, says one relative, because 'I'm physically alone with it'

Thirteen people have died and 55 have tested positive for COVID-19 at Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Thirteen people have died and more than half of the residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville, leaving family members anxious and eagerly awaiting news.

The care centre confirmed Sunday that 55 residents and 30 staff at the 101-bed long-term care home have COVID-19. That means there have been four more deaths and 13 more confirmed cases since Thursday.

Anson Place is struggling to fill shifts since 30 staff are off sick. The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit and the care centre "continue to take steps to contain the COVID-19 outbreak," the health unit said in a media release.

In the meantime, relatives like Debi Noye of Dartmouth, N.S., are spending Easter weekend following the news and fearing the worst. Her mom, Bonnie Cochrane, turned 86 yesterday — the same day she was confirmed to have COVID-19. Noye has tried calling the home and no one has answered, "which I understand." Last she heard, her mom was on oxygen.

"Agonizing is the best way to describe it," she said. "Agonizing. Frustrating. You feel helpless. I get all my information second or third or fourth hand."

Bonnie Cochrane, 86, is a retired nurse and Anson Place resident. Her daughter says she's tested positive for COVID-19, and all the family can do is wait for news. (Debi Noye)

"I don't get to talk to anybody who's actually caring for her, or has seen her, or can give me any details. I just have to trust that she's being taken care of."

Anson Place, which is a long-term care home and retirement residence, is one of the hardest hit facilities in Ontario since the pandemic started. 

Residents have been isolated in their rooms, and staff are wearing full personal protective equipment, the health unit said. Staff only travel to and from work, and are in isolation otherwise.

The health unit initially said many of the cases stemmed from a funeral, although the family who held the funeral disputes that. Ultimately, the health unit said, the origin matters less now than identifying and containing the clusters.

Lisa Roth, Anson Place executive director, said every resident and staff member has been tested for COVID-19 now. That means the number of confirmed cases could increase more this week.

"This will allow us to fully understand the current outbreak to better manage it appropriately," she said in an email Sunday. 

The care centre has also hired more direct care and cleaning staff, she said. It doesn't have a shortage of personal protective equipment right now.

"We are working closely with [the health unit] and the Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care to follow all directives and protocols to mitigate the outbreak."

Noye said her mom, a retired psychiatric and operating room nurse, has Alzheimer's disease, so she's not sure she'd know her if they could talk on the phone. All she can do is sit and wait.

If the worst happens, "I can't do anything but sit right here in my apartment. That's really hard. Even though there are a lot of people with compassion and empathy, I feel very alone with it because I'm physically alone with it."

"Maybe otherwise, I would get on a plane and I would go. But now my son can't even come over and sit with me."

Now a literal storm is coming

Overall, the health unit confirmed 131 in Haldimand and Norfolk as of Saturday night. Sixteen have recovered. All of the COVID-19 deaths have been at Anson Place.

Soon, the area will have another challenge. Haldimand and Norfolk counties are urging everyone who can to leave the Lake Erie shore ahead of a Monday storm expected to cause "extreme flooding."

Haldimand recommends people at cottages leave them and go home to their permanent residences. Those who live there permanently, the county said, should stay inside.

"Those who don't leave risk being stranded at their cottage or home when area roads become impassable," Norfolk warned in a media release.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca