Non-medical masks help when physical distancing not possible: Tam
She also cited the need to ensure that the standards of care in seniors' residences are improved.
OTTAWA — Canada’s chief public health doctor says Canadians in communities where COVID-19 is still spreading should wear non-medical masks when they can’t stay physically distant from others.
Dr. Theresa Tam is also urging Canadians not to forget how hard this pandemic has hit vulnerable seniors in long-term care homes and the need to ensure that the standards of care in seniors’ residences are improved.
While Tam said almost half the people confirmed to have COVID-19 in Canada have now recovered, and most provinces reported either no or very few new cases May13, Ontario and Quebec are still seeing hundreds of new COVID-19 patients every day. Long-term care centres account for a large number of them. Nationally, one-fifth of all cases, and more than four-fifths of all deaths from COVID-19, are connected to long-term care, with outbreaks in hundreds of facilities.
Ontario, where outbreaks of COVID-19 have hit 40% of the long-term care homes, became the latest province to take steps to control management of long-term care homes Wednesday, enacting an emergency order to give itself that power. The government did not immediately invoke the power, but can use it to influence the operations of any long-term care home in the province, including those run by the private sector, municipalities, charities and non-profits.
Premier Doug Ford said it will mean Ontario is better prepared to “immediately swing into action if a home is struggling to contain this deadly virus.”
Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia have all stepped in to take over management of some privately run homes after outbreaks got out of control.
Tam said there are many lessons to be learned from this “tragic characteristic” of the pandemic in Canada, and said we can’t “let these lessons be forgotten.”
“I think improving all those standards and conditions for our seniors is very important,” she said.
But during a House of Commons health committee virtual meeting, several advocates for seniors were blistering in their criticism of governments’ management of long-term care. Paul Brunet, the president of the Conseil pour la protection des malades in Quebec, said Canada and Quebec both ignored warnings issued by the World Health Organization in February and March about the risks COVID-19 was posing to vulnerable seniors living in care homes.
Jodi Hall, the chair of the Canadian Association for Long Term Care, said hundreds of facilities in Canada simply cannot do what the public health recommendations say – namely isolate residents from each other – because they have only three- and four-bed rooms, narrow hallways and one dining room.
Hall said the government needs to make some infrastructure money available to immediately upgrade the more than 400 homes in Canada in that category.
All provinces are turning their attention to reopening their economies, with several already into the first phases. Ontario and Alberta are set to announce reopening plans Thursday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to remain careful as things gradually reopen: staying home as much as possible and staying distant from others when they do have to go out.