Care home outbreaks drive jump in cases, deaths in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark

A series of outbreaks in long-term care homes is driving up the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the rural communities of Leeds, Grenville and Lanark.

Long-term care residents make up 37 per cent of total cases and account for most deaths

Outbreaks in long-term care homes, including at Almonte Country Haven, account for most of the increase in confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19 in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark. (Jean Delisle/CBC News)

A series of outbreaks in long-term care homes is driving up the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the rural communities of Leeds, Grenville and Lanark.

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (LGLDHU) reported 30 new coronavirus cases — for a total of 123 — and four more deaths, according to a daily report published by the health unit Wednesday. 

That's a 32 per cent increase in the number of lab-confirmed cases compared to the day before, and a doubling of the number of people who have died. Long-term care residents make up 45 of the total 123 confirmed cases and account for seven of the eight deaths, the report said.

The data show the speed with which the virus has spread within the mostly rural region stretching from Brockville, Ont. in the south to Mississippi Mills, Ont. in the north, which saw its first case on March 26.

The region now has the second highest COVID-19 infection rate among all public health units in the province when measured per 100,000 people, according to data from Ontario's Health Ministry. 

Cases concentrated in care facilities

Medical officer of health for Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, Paula Stewart, said the numbers are inflated by severe outbreaks in retirement homes and long-term care facilities and not necessarily an indication of widespread, community transmission.

"We have a really serious problem in three of those homes," said Stewart. "[But] it doesn't tell what's happening across the whole community."

There are currently six COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the region.

Stewart said the outbreaks at Almonte Country Haven in Mississippi Mills, Ont., Stoneridge Manor in Carleton Place, Ont., and the Carolina Retirement Residence in Perth, Ont., all in Lanark County, are particularly concerning.

The health unit has not published specific numbers of cases and deaths at each home — despite a call for greater transparency — saying it's up to each facility to release that data.

Stewart said that focusing too much on daily numbers can mask the fact that cases within the community account for only 38 per cent of the total. The rest are among residents of long-term care homes and health-care workers.

Stewart added that the daily jump in new cases — from 93 to 123 — can be mostly explained by increased testing at care facilities and the clearing of the provincial testing backlog, which stood at over 10,000 two weeks ago and has been reduced to about 1,000.

Listen: Call for transparency at Almonte nursing home hit by COVID outbreak

Eastern Ontario faring comparatively well

The surge in cases and deaths in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark has so far not been replicated in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), which includes Cornwall and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.

EOHU reported a total of 47 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. No one there has died of the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus and there is only one COVID-19 outbreak at a care facility in the region — at a group home in Plantagenet, Ont.

Medical officer of health Paul Roumeliotis said his region saw a peak in new cases in the middle of March and has only seen a "trickle" of new daily cases since.

"Hopefully our peak is over but we can't rely on that," said Roumeliotis. "We still have some time to go over the next week or two until we make sure that we've collectively flattened that curve."