Gaspé nursing-home worker who tried in vain to get COVID-19 test triggered outbreak that's killed 2

Gustave Joseph would have turned 80 on April 7. The resident of the Manoir du Havre in Maria, Que., died Saturday, followed by a second person Monday. In all, 35 people have contracted the virus at the home in the days since a caregiver returned to work from a visit to Quebec City, not knowing she was contagious.

The Manoir du Havre in Maria, Que., has 30 residents — and 35 cases of COVID-19

Gustave Joseph, who died from COVID-19 in Maria, Que. on Saturday, would have celebrated his 80th birthday on April 7. (Submitted by )

Public health officials in the Gaspé region say the first two COVID-19-related deaths in the region are linked to an outbreak that has swept through the Manoir du Havre in Maria, a private seniors' home on the Baie des Chaleurs, 800 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The 30-resident nursing home now has 35 cases of COVID-19, in an outbreak which appears to have been spread by one of the home's health-care workers, who became ill in late March.

Gustave Joseph died in hospital in Maria on Saturday, just days shy of his 80th birthday, his nephew confirmed to Radio-Canada. 

"He had a fever, was coughing and shaking. He had chills because of his fever," Marcel Joseph said. 

Joseph said his uncle was doing OK for three days. On the fourth day, his condition worsened. 

"He left extremely fast," he said.

"He didn't suffer, but he was all alone in death. That's what we find hard."

A second death was reported Monday, but no other details are known. 

Sick worker hadn't left Canada, so couldn't get test

The regional public health director for the Gaspé region, Dr. Yv Bonnier-Viger, said one employee of the Maria residence who tested positive near the end of March had been in contact with all of the residents of the Manoir du Havre.

Bonnier-Viger said the employee in question had not travelled outside of Canada but had travelled to another region in mid-March. 

A relative of that worker confirmed the details of what happened to Radio-Canada, explaining that the health-care worker had travelled to Quebec City for a show on March 12, before any regional restrictions were in place and while most businesses were still open. 

35 cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed at the Manoir du Havre, in Maria, Que. (Simon Turcotte/Radio-Canada)

The same day, Premier François Legault and public health officials announced measures to control the spread of COVID-19 in Quebec, triggering a wave of cancellations of large gatherings.

The show the health-care worker had travelled to see was cancelled that evening. When the woman returned to work at the Manoir du Havre on March 18, she had no symptoms, her relative said. 

Two days later, she started having flu-like symptoms and decided to self-isolate. 

Family concerned about testing delays

The family member expressed concerns about the length of time it took for an official diagnosis for her sick relative. Ten days went by between the time the ailing worker first noticed symptoms and when she received confirmation she was COVID-19 positive.

The family member said her relative called the coronavirus information line three times and was told she could not be tested because she had not travelled outside the country. 

She went to hospital in Maria twice by ambulance, once on March 24 and once on March 27, when she was admitted to the hospital's intensive care unit and tested for the virus. She was then transferred by ambulance to an ICU unit at a Quebec City hospital, where she was tested a second time.

Her test results were confirmed positive on March 29. 

Bonnier-Viger defended the initial testing decisions. "At the time, we systematically looked for people who had travelled outside of the country. The clinicians did their job."

Marcel Joseph's nephew said he was not trying to assign blame. He said he prefers to remember his uncle's good humour.   

Meanwhile, the Manoir du Havre home has had to bring in a completely new roster of caregivers, while regular employees self-isolate.

"We had to send all the workers home to quarantine. We had to replace all these workers," Bonnier-Viger said. 

The Manoir du Havre in Maria has 30 residents and 20 employees.

As of Monday, the Gaspésie—Les-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region had 62 confirmed cases, including the 35 cases related to the Manoir du Havre.


  • An earlier version of this story said the infected health-care worker was not tested for COVID-19 until she was transferred to a Quebec City hospital. In fact, she was tested twice — first, on March 27, which was the second time she was brought by ambulance to the hospital in Maria.
    Apr 07, 2020 6:28 PM ET

With files from Joane Berubé, Brianne Fequet, Isabelle Larose and Catherine Poisson

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