COVID-19 outbreaks declared in 2 more highrises as Rebecca Towers hits 103 cases

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, said the latest outbreaks at are the Wellington Place Apartments and The Village Apartments, where dozens of residents have tested positive.

Resident living in outbreak says tenants feel 'completely ignored'

A banner calling for help hangs from a balcony at Rebecca Towers on May 7, 2021. Hamilton Public Health says COVID019 outbreaks have been declared in two other apartment buildings. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared in two more Hamilton highrises as public health officials investigate "clusters" of cases that have infected dozens.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Towers, the first apartment building where an outbreak was declared, has hit 103 cases.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, said the latest outbreaks at are the Wellington Place Apartments and The Village Apartments.

Investigation by health officials has found 29 cases across 15 units at the Village Apartments, a 250-unit building at 151 Queen Street North, said the doctor, adding most of those involved tested positive between April 28 and May 4.

Wellington Place Apartments, which is at 125 Wellington Street and has 360 units, has seen 18 cases in seven apartments, which appeared between April 17 and May 8, said Richardson.

She said that large buildings that are home to hundreds of residents may see cases at any time but the spike in cases at each is what prompted the investigation.

 "It's when they build up to such a level that you start to be concerned about, is there some other reason for transmission occurring," she said.

Public health contacted the landlords of each building on Monday morning and have directed them to notify residents about the outbreaks today.

Staff have found evidence of spread within households, but have so far not found any links between cases in different units, said Richardson.

"We're working with property management in all of those sites to identify factors that contribute to the spread of the virus within the apartment complex," she said.

On-site testing is being offered at each of the buildings to limit the spread of the virus.

At Rebecca Towers, residents spent the weekend watching as the case count in their building continued to rise.

WATCH | Rebecca Towers residents share concerns amid outbreak

'We need vaccines': Rebecca Towers residents speak out

5 months ago
Members of the Rebecca Towers tenant committee share their concerns following a COVID-19 outbreak in their building. 0:59
To date, 103 cases have been linked to the outbreak. Of those, 100 are residents and three are staff members. One person has died.

The ballooning case number follows door-to-door testing carried out in the building by paramedics late last week.

People living in the building have called for it to be designated a hot spot and for a vaccine clinic to be set up there to protect residents and stop the spread.

"It's getting so bad," said Serena Pollock, who's lived there since 2015.

Residents don't feel heard

During a media update Monday, Richardson said public health is not planning to offer vaccines on site, instead officials will help those in the building who are eligible for shots access clinics nearby.

Pollock said she feels as though the pleas from Rebecca Towers are falling on deaf ears.

"I really don't believe they're hearing and I don't think they're taking this seriously enough."

She isn't alone.

Arefin Chowdhury has lived in the highrise for four years with his mother, wife and newborn baby.

He and his mother both contracted the virus, though he said they're feeling OK and their isolation period has just finished.

Rebecca Towers is seen on May 5, 2021. A COVID-19 outbreak was declared in the building on May 3 and has grown to 103 cases. One person has died. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Residents are upset that cases in the building began to appear in mid-March but they weren't notified until last week, he said, adding that had they known people there had contracted COVID-19 they would have known to be even more cautious.

Chowdhury said he stopped working on April 20, so he believes he was exposed to the virus in the building.

Now cases are "rising rapidly," he said, describing the situation as "alarming."

While public health communicates with the building's landlord, Chowdhury said "tenants are completely ignored" in the conversation.

Richardson was asked on Monday why residents of a building would not have been told, in general terms, that COVID-19 had been found in their building.

The doctor said health officials have stressed throughout the pandemic that the virus is a concern in every part of the community, but they don't notify people unless there's an outbreak where there might be an increased risk of transmission.

Public health isn't looking at each building in the city to say exactly how many cases are there, she said, but the outbreak at Rebecca Towers has pushed staff to reevaluate.

"Anytime we see something a little different we go back to see how our methods are working for us ... so we are going back over those," Richardson said. "We'll continue to work on that over the coming days."

Calls for vaccines continue

Rebecca Towers is in Ward 2, represented by councillor Jason Farr. In a statement emailed to CBC he described the outbreak there as "our worst fears being realized."

The councillor pointed to last week's general issues committee where he asked several questions about it, saying Richardson told him at that time that the landlord for the building was not violating any infection prevention and control measures.

Farr also said that Richardson told him that while there were cases in the building in March, an outbreak was only declared in the last week of April after the case number rose.

Still, residents including Chowdhury, said they were not notified until May 3, when they received a letter about the outbreak from public health.

Paramedics were at Rebecca Towers on May 6, 2021 to provide testing for residents. On-site testing is being offered at two more highrises that have seen clusters of cases. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Those living in the building have raised concerns about the fact only one elevator is currently running and with a limit of two people at a time. Small crowds of seven or eight people can gather while waiting their turn to reach their floor, said Pollock.

Medallion, the company that manages the building, previously told CBC the work on the elevator was "necessary," but did not respond to an email sent Monday asking questions about maintenance at Rebecca Towers.

Chowdhury said he's thankful to be feeling better, and looking forward to holding his two-week-old daughter Aireen for the first time.

However, he said he remains concerned about his fellow residents, including those who are elderly or have mobility issues that make reaching an existing vaccination clinic difficult.

"We should be in a hot spot by this time and be vaccinated on the spot." 


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