Hamilton

Public health is prepared to offer more vaccine appointments to Rebecca Towers if needed

The highrise has logged 109 cases of the virus since mid-March. Thirty-four cases were active as of Thursday, according to public health. One person has died.

Resident committee says tenants worried about transmission with 1 working elevator

A Rebecca Towers resident holds a sign asking for help on May 7, 2021. The building is currently in a COVID-19 outbreak with 34 active cases. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Public health says it's ready to offer Rebecca Towers residents more COVID-19 vaccination appointments after tenants raised concerns the 150 initially set aside weren't enough for all adults at the building that's currently in outbreak.

The highrise has logged 109 cases of the virus since mid-March. Thirty-four cases were active as of Thursday, according to public health. One person has died.

Residents have been calling for shots to be offered on-site since the outbreak was declared on May 3, but officials said they don't plan on setting up a mobile vaccination clinic.

Instead, they're offering anyone 18 and older who lives in the building a chance to go to the mass vaccination site at FirstOntario Centre between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Fifty appointments have been set aside for each half-hour window, a figure that one tenant told CBC won't cover everyone in the building.

"One hundred and fifty people for vaccination is obviously not enough for 164 units," said Arefin Chowdhury. "In our point of view it's not enough at all, a half-hour slot."

Chowdhury, who contracted COVID-19 and only recently ended his isolation period, was one of the resident representatives who met with public health on Wednesday.

The Rebecca Towers tenant committee issued a statement Thursday, saying it's grateful for the shots, but disappointed its push for on-site vaccinations is being refused. It also echoed Chowdhury's concerns.

"We are asking that more appointments be set aside at First Ontario Centre; there are ... approximately 300-400 residents, so 150 appointments is not sufficient," the statement read.

A spokesperson for public health said it can "absolutely expand" the number of spots.

"This is simply a starting point to assess uptake," James Berry wrote in an email. "We recognize how critical it is to offer vaccine to residents."

"Vaccine ambassadors" and community agencies will also identify anyone who's homebound or isolating because of a close contact with a case and may need to be vaccinated on-site, according to public health.

Ironically, the very act of leaving the building to get vaccinated could put us at greater risk of contracting coronavirus.-Rebecca Towers tenant committee

The ambassadors work with public health to engage with the community and populations prioritized for shots by building "trust and confidence," said Berry.

The tenants have asked that anyone who doesn't feel safe leaving their unit to get a shot also be considered homebound and that paramedics and healthcare staff provide door-to-door vaccinations for anyone who asks for it.

The committee's statement shared resident fears as the outbreak continues, from hesitation to do laundry or leave for groceries or to pick up medications.

People inside the building have also repeatedly raised issue with the fact only one elevator is currently operating for the entire 17-storey highrise.

The Rebecca Towers tenant committee says residents are concerned about transmission with only one working elevator for the 17-storey building. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

That concern extends to getting a vaccine, according to the committee.

"We are worried about the risk of transmission if a large number of residents are to leave from the building at the same time via the two narrow stairwells and one 4'x6' elevator to travel together to First Ontario Centre and back," read its statement.

"Ironically, the very act of leaving the building to get vaccinated could put us at greater risk of contracting coronavirus."

Berry said public health can "appreciate the concern" shared by people in the building and said that's why the vaccine ambassadors will be knocking on doors to help work through barriers keeping people from shots

While public health won't be carrying out the on-site assessments, staff will work with the ambassadors to sort out who needs an on-site vaccination, he said, pointing to medical conditions and COVID-19 isolation as examples.

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