COVID-19 outbreak kills 1 in 4 residents at rural Manitoba care home

At least 80 per cent of the 39 residents at Kin Place Personal Care Home in Oakbank have tested positive for COVID-19 since an outbreak was declared in November. Ten of those residents have died.

80 per cent of the 39 residents at Kin Place Personal Care Home in Oakbank have tested positive for COVID-19

Gerald Ziprick, 85, shown here in hospital in early 2020, died at the Kin Place Personal Care Home on Dec. 16 after catching COVID-19. His family says it was hard to know that his symptoms were connected to the coronavirus, since his chronic illness gave him similar physical pain. (Submitted by Nancy Ziprick Baert)

When Nancy Ziprick Baert's 85-year-old dad complained about being tired, she assumed it was usual symptoms brought on by his chronic illness.

"Eating one of his meals, he said, 'It doesn't taste like anything,'" Ziprick Baert said.

"In hindsight, he did have very mild symptoms. But with his illness, you wouldn't know to test for COVID."

Her dad, Gerald Ziprick, was one of 10 residents at Kin Place Personal Care Home in Oakbank, Man. who died after being infected with COVID-19.

The 40-bed facility just east of Winnipeg declared the outbreak on Nov. 27. Since then, the majority of its residents have caught the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Of the 39 people living in the facility at the start of the outbreak, at least 31 have now tested positive, according to the province. That amounts to an infection rate of 80 per cent.

Ziprick said many people living in personal care homes already have medical conditions, making it difficult for family and staff to know what is a normal health issue and what might be a sign of COVID-19. Her dad had muscular system atrophy, which gave him fatigue and breathing difficulties.

"Some days you're more tired than others, and you don't know why. So I think it would be hard to notice a change in symptoms until they are severe," she said.

How illness got inside

Ziprick Baert believes her dad was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 inside Kin Place.

It happened after her mother, who visited daily as her dad's designated caregiver, began feeling tired. Her COVID-19 test came back positive.

Ziprick Baert said the care home's staff acted quickly, stopping all visits within hours of her mom's positive test result.

The family still isn't sure whether her mom brought COVID-19 into Kin Place, or whether she caught it inside. Her mom wasn't going anywhere except between her house and the care home, Ziprick Baert said.

"With my mom, we always wore masks because that was her worst fear — was to get COVID and not be able to see my dad," she said.

Gerald Ziprick and his wife, Freda, in the summer of 2019. Freda was Gerald's designated caregiver who visited him in his personal care home, and tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-November. Days later, Gerald tested positive, too. The family isn't sure whether Freda got the illness from the care home or brought it in. (Submitted by Nancy Ziprick Baert)

Before the outbreak, staff took steps to keep things safe, from screening for symptoms to using personal protective equipment, Ziprick Baert said.

"Even when I was there to warm up my dad's coffee or to get water, I couldn't go down the fridge and get his water. All the staff had to get everything," she said.

Ramped up measures

A spokesperson for the province said all personal care homes in the Interlake-Eastern health region, including Kin Place, follow infection prevention and control measures.

When COVID-19 was discovered in the home, Kin Place did immediate contact tracing, the province said. Care home staff and residents who may be close contacts of confirmed cases are given priority testing.

Residents who test positive are isolated in their rooms or with others who have tested positive.

An IV therapy team and extra medical and support staff have also been brought into Kin Place, the province said.

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Kin Place in Oakbank at the end of November. Since then, 10 people have died, according to provincial data. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Half Manitoba's COVID deaths linked to care homes

Manitoba's care homes have been hard hit by the pandemic.

More than half of the province's deaths linked to COVID-19 — 683 as of the province's update on Sunday — have been connected to personal care home and assisted living facilities. Approximately 60 facilities in Manitoba are currently experiencing outbreaks.

Ziprick Baert said she doesn't know what her dad's care home could have done differently, but that more random testing might have helped catch the cases sooner.

She also wants families to pay close attention to their loved ones' symptoms.

"If you notice the slightest little thing, mark it down and pay attention, like if they can't taste the food. Just be a little bit more aware," she said.

"And cherish every day that you can visit with them, whether you might [see them] by FaceTime, or if you do have the ability to still go in person, do that as much as possible."


Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter at CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with earlier stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at or on social media @CBCMarina.