Ontario's 7th wave of COVID-19 is already hitting long-term care homes

Families, caregivers and health experts are all warning vulnerable seniors in long-term care and retirement homes are once again at risk.

Doctors and advocates call for the return of vaccine mandates for staff in long-term care

Jodie McConnell’s mom, Jean, is a resident of St. Joseph's Villa in Sudbury, where primary caregivers were notified of a COVID-19 outbreak involving at least 12 residents earlier this week. (Submitted by Jodie MConnell)

Jodie McConnell said as soon as she heard there was another COVID-19 outbreak at her mom's long-term care home she panicked.

"I was scared this outbreak would be like the previous ones," she told CBC News.

So far, the outbreak at St. Joseph's Villa in Sudbury, Ont., where her mom, Jean, lives, is affecting 12 residents. Across the province there were 65 long-term care homes reporting outbreaks as of last weekend, according to Public Health Ontario data, as well as 51 retirement homes as of July 2.

This week, Ontario's top doctor confirmed the province is now in its seventh wave of COVID-19, with those aged 80-plus seeing the sharpest increase in case rates. The wave, which is already hitting many staff and long-term care residents hard, has some doctors and experts calling for a greater push for fourth doses and a reinstatement of vaccine mandates for long-term care staff.

Professor Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care advocate and researcher, says more needs to be done to prevent outbreaks in the sector, including a return to vaccine mandates for staff. (Submitted by: Vivian Stamatopoulos)

Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto, says fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which seniors are eligible for, are essential in preventing deaths. But, he said, "we need to do a much better job getting our residents, staff and their families access to these vaccines."

In his view the return of a vaccine mandate for staff is critical in protecting the older populations they serve.

Professor Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care advocate and researcher, says the removal of the vaccine mandate for workers in long-term care homes, which occurred in the spring, means "it's still a very precarious situation, arguably, more so now than at any time before."

She said the arrival of the seventh wave should trigger a vaccine mandate reinstatement.

More staffing shortages 'devastating'

Terry Crystal's mother, Marjorie, lives at Southlake Residential Care Village in Newmarket, Ont., a home with some of the highest case counts of this seventh wave so far. The facility is currently reporting 20 health care workers with COVID-19, a figure that was as high as 29 a few days ago.

There were also 15 residents reported as having the virus as of a report submitted Wednesday, but that's down from 47 at the beginning of the week.

Her mother has Parkinson's and dementia and the limited social interaction from lockdowns is making her depressed and causing stress and anxiety, Crystal said.

"I am afraid she will lose her will to live," she said.

Terry Crystal worries for her mother's mental health amid another outbreak at Southlake Residential Care Village where her mother, Marjorie, lives. (Submitted by Terry Crystal)

Ian Da Silva, national director of operations for the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, which represents nearly 50,000 of these workers, says health-care workers being out with COVID-19 in this seventh wave is compounding the short-staffing challenges already present in the field.

"We're talking about staffing that's already stretched to the breaking point now and to add an infection on top of that, even one or two staff … it would be it would be devastating."

The association is getting reports of PSWs being responsible for 30 to 40 people in their wings, he says.

"If one of those goes down with the COVID, then you can quickly do the math to see how that impacts the remaining residents. They're simply not getting care. It's just simply not possible."

That's a concern shared by Julie Perl, who is the primary caregiver for a dear friend living at Villa Colombo Homes for the Aged in Toronto, where at least six health-care workers have COVID-19.

Perl says even losing one health-care worker makes a difference to care her friend, who is bed-ridden, receives.

She says her friend, who is completely cognitive, tells her he uses the call button but it takes some time to get help.

"If he needs to be changed or repositioned, he could wait for over an hour," she said. "For him being in a soiled diaper? He should be changed immediately."

Family hires private personal support worker

Jean McConnell's family made the decision to hire a private support worker during the seventh wave. (Submitted by: Jodie McConnell)

Worried about what the outbreak at St. Joseph's Villa could mean for Jean's well-being, the McConnell family made a more drastic move to ensure Jean has the support she needs during this wave.

The family has hired a private support worker for Jean, but the decision is coming at a cost. A couple of hours of care, delivered three times a week, will cost the family over $1,000 a month, McConnell said. 

Other families may be considering similar options, especially if the outbreaks continue or get larger.

At the Hellenic Centre for Seniors in Toronto and the Tilbury Nursing Home in Windsor-Essex, for example, more than a quarter of residents have COVID-19, while several staff members are out as well. 

CBC News provided the opportunity to the Minister of Long-Term Care to discuss the outbreaks, but was told he was unavailable.


Clara Pasieka is a CBC journalist in Toronto. She has also worked in CBC's national bureau and as a reporter in the Northwest Territories, Ontario and New Brunswick. Her investigative work following the Nova Scotia Mass Shooting was a finalist for a CAJ Award. She holds a Masters degree in Public Policy, Law and Public Administration from York University.

With files from Shanifa Nasser