Nova Scotia

Northwood increases COVID-19 testing after 23% of residents test positive

Nearly a quarter of residents at Northwood, Halifax’s largest nursing home, have tested positive for COVID-19 and administrators say they’re now going to be swabbing all residents and staff, regardless of whether people are showing symptoms.

111 residents and 40 staff have tested positive at the long-term care home in Halifax

Five people who lived at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax died because of COVID-19. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Nearly a quarter of residents at Northwood, Halifax's largest nursing home, have tested positive for COVID-19 and administrators say they're now going to be swabbing all residents and staff, regardless of whether people are showing symptoms.

Five people who lived in the home died over the weekend after contracting the virus. The number of cases at Northwood escalated late last week, and the province stepped in to help with the resulting staffing crisis, sending over 40 nurses, continuing care assistants and rehabilitation therapists to the facility.

CEO Janet Simms announced Monday that 31 additional residents have tested positive, bringing the current total to 111 residents. Forty staff — about five per cent of the total workforce at the Halifax campus — have also tested positive and are now off work.

After realizing asymptomatic people were transmitting the virus, the home — with the help of Nova Scotia Health Authority employees — has started swabbing the staff and residents who haven't previously been tested, said Josie Ryan, executive director of long-term care, during a press briefing Monday afternoon.

"We've decided, working with a medical officer of health, just to swab the entire building and starting with the people, the folks that aren't affected and going to the other floors," she said.

Josie Ryan, Northwood's executive director of long-term care, says the increase in testing could result in more confirmed cases of COVID-19 being identified. (Brian Mackay/CBC)

About 100 residents were expected to be tested Monday and the hope is that all 800 employees, the majority of whom are continuing care assistants, will be tested by the end of the week.

Ryan said as a result, it's possible there will be an increase in the number of confirmed cases.

Up until now, half of the staff and one-quarter of the residents have not been tested. Ryan said residents will also be retested. Rresults have been coming back in about 24 hours.

Originally, Northwood set up a COVID-19 unit with 20 beds. But within a few days, it was full. As a result, residents aren't automatically removed from a room if one of the two or three people who reside in it tests positive.

"What we're seeing is ... if a resident is positive in a room, within a couple of days, the roommate becomes positive," Ryan said.

After realizing asymptomatic people were transmitting COVID-19, Northwood started swabbing staff and residents who haven't previously been tested for the virus. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The home reached a crisis point after the number of cases shot up from 42 infected residents on Thursday to 80 on Saturday.

"We were not able to manage this on our own. We were doing very, very well up until the last couple of days," said Simms.

On Sunday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced an emergency plan for Northwood, which included redeploying Halifax Infirmary's COVID-19 team.

Increased staffing

The staffing reinforcements allowed Northwood to operate Monday with about four staff members on each floor, more than double the support that was available on the weekend.

Residents "may not get a shower, but their personal hygiene needs are being met and that allied health team's really responding to the need for food and nutrition and hydration," said Ryan.

"Their best chance is to make sure that if they're hydrated and looked after every day ... we've had a 98-year-old elderly woman who made it through and that's part of the reason."

The hope is people will be moved off-site to a hotel as they recover, freeing up space to ensure more patients can have single rooms.

Ryan said given the virus can incubate for two weeks, it doesn't make sense to move people who have not tested positive.

On Sunday, one patient moved into the hotel and another two were expected to be transferred Monday. By the end of the week, administrators hope eight more people will join them.

'What we've been doing has not been enough'

In recent days, families of residents have posted on social media about being frustrated with the lack of information coming from Northwood. Simms vowed to do more to communicate with the families of residents and said the home has set up a dedicated email account to answer people's questions.

"We understand that what we've been doing has not been enough," she said. "We'll be contacting families with updates about our residents on a more regular basis, not just weekly."

Northwood has the capacity to house 485 residents and the majority of them are living in double rooms. There are also nine triple rooms and Northwood administrators said efforts are underway to reduce the number of people in these rooms.

Across the province, there are 721 cases of COVID-19.

Nine long-term care homes have confirmed cases, with a total of 127 residents and 61 staff affected.

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