'We feel the hurt': 3 dead at Toronto long-term care home hit by COVID-19 outbreak

Three residents of an east-end Toronto long-term care home died Thursday morning after an outbreak of COVID-19.

As St. Clair O'Connor Community reports its first deaths, anxiety sets in for families of residents in care

The deaths at the St. Clair O'Connor Community are the first at the long-term care facility. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Three residents of an east-end Toronto long-term care home died Thursday morning after an outbreak of COVID-19.

The residents, all in their late 80s, had been sick for "a number of weeks," according to St. Clair O'Connor Community CEO Mary Hoare.

The deaths are the first in the long-term care division of the mixed-housing community, which is home to 25 residents in assisted living and about 200 others in independent living units.

Hoare told CBC News the residents died in the early hours of the morning. Seven staff members have also tested positive and 13 other residents, she said, have shown symptoms of the virus, which has swept across Canada and infected thousands, killing some of the country's frailest, most vulnerable citizens

"It's very difficult to say goodbye to people that you've known for a long time. So we feel the hurt as well personally," Hoare said.

The centre is now the hardest-hit in the city after the Seven Oaks long-term care centre in Scarborough, which has reported eight deaths related to COVID-19. Another 14 residents there are confirmed to have the virus, along with nine staff members.

'We are preparing for it to spread'

Toronto Public Health has said there are another 54 probable cases at that facility alone. The agency said Wednesday it was aware of 18 outbreaks in long-term care homes across the city. 

Ontario's health officials said Thursday they are aware of 26 outbreaks in long-term care homes across the province, with 19 deaths reported by such facilities. But as CBC News reported Wednesday, at least 40 deaths of residents in Ontario nursing and retirement homes have so far been linked to COVID-19, according to Ontario's 34 local public health units. 

Hoare says she knows the prospects are grim.

For relatives of residents, the anxiety is taking its toll. Family members are no longer allowed to visit as the home tries to curb the spread of the virus.

For Sal Morano, a grainy image on a cellphone screen is all that he has seen of his elderly father in weeks — not ideal but a still some comfort, because the 92-year-old was still healthy. 
A grainy image on a cellphone screen is all Sal Morano has seen of his elderly father in weeks — not ideal but a still some comfort as the 92-year-old was still healthy. That changed this week. (Submitted by Sal Morano)

"He looked great," Morano recalled of their conversation Sunday afternoon. 

But just hours after that video chat, he received a phone call from the long-term care home where his father was a resident, with worrying news.

'You just feel helpless'

Salavatore Morano, who had just been admitted to the home in late December, had come down with a fever. Staff at the Seven Oaks care home told Morano on the phone they were worried. 

His father would be tested for COVID-19 the next day.

The results came Wednesday. Salvatore tested positive for the virus.

Adding to that, the 92-year-old suffers from Alzheimer's disease, his son told CBC News. As a result, he fails to grasp why his loved ones haven't been visiting.

"It's a lot to bear," an emotional Morano said. "My father, he needs us ... You just feel helpless. You want to be by their side and they want you there too. They can't understand why you're not coming in. My father doesn't understand."

Salvatore Morano, left, is pictured here with his son Sal. The 92-year-old has tested positive for COVID-19. (Submitted by Sal Morano)

As the number of cases in nursing homes continues to rise, some are calling on officials to step up their measures, testing everyone in a facility that has declared an outbreak.

"That's important so that we don't miss cases that could allow us to further spread this virus around and potentially kill more people," Dr. Sameer Sinha said Wednesday, pointing to U.S. research showing many residents of long-term care homes are testing positive for COVID-19 without having any symptoms. 

'Changing by the hour'

Toronto Public Health says it's doing everything possible to protect the city's elderly

"Everything from active screening, enhanced cleaning, isolation of residents as soon as symptoms are identified," the city's chief medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said Thursday. 

For his part, Morano has praise for the Seven Oaks staff, saying they have encouraged families to call often for updates, have been forthcoming with information and have taken his father's temperature throughout the day. 

This morning, his temperature went up slightly, said Morano said, knowing his father's condition could take a turn at any moment.

Morano is trying to remain positive. His hope is that his father survives and he can eventually share a positive story of survival and hope with the media.

Still, he's bracing for anything. 

"Things are changing by the hour," he said. "We're maybe a call away from the worst case scenario"