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Long-term Care Outbreaks Sadly Contributed 40% of COVID-Related Deaths in B.C.

Long-term care outbreaks of COVID-19 in B.C. have contributed to almost half of the reported number of deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C. 

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said that “about 40 percent of the people who’ve died in this month have been related to outbreaks in long-term care”. Other individuals who have succumbed to COVID-19 are the elderly who have preexisting comorbidities. Most of those who died were also unvaccinated. 

However, it is not just the unvaccinated elderly affected by the long-term care outbreaks who are dying from the COVID-19 virus. People of younger ages have also faced the negative health effects of COVID-19, leading to their eventual death. Two citizens around the age of 40 years old who were unvaccinated recently died. 

What are the Criteria for Long-Term Care Outbreaks?

An outbreak is defined as “one or more clients and/or staff of a Long-Term Care facility/ Seniors’ Assisted Living residence with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis”. The staff members who had a positive test result should have been working in the facility when they developed symptoms. 

However, the criteria for outbreaks are currently being revised. 

The Ministry of Health said that the protocols for managing long-term care outbreaks are still not finalized. They are still working on it so that it can effectively guide government officials in making decisions regarding identifying outbreaks. 

As a result, it is difficult at the moment to determine how many deaths occurred in the various long-term care homes located across B.C. as a result of COVID-19.

The absence of established criteria and protocols for long-term care outbreaks means that the reported number of outbreaks may not reflect the true situation happening in the province. There could be long-term care homes with staff members and residents who have gotten ill with COVID-19 but have not been captured by relevant institutions as outbreaks.

However, the Ministry of Health also said that “as has been the case all along, the declaration of an outbreak is made by the medical health officer and addresses the unique situation at each care home”. Details regarding the criteria for long-term care outbreaks are expected to be communicated during the briefing that will be held this week. 

The ministry acknowledged that there has been a sharp increase in infections among residents in long-term care and assisted living facilities. Those who belong to the elderly age group remain the most vulnerable to the detrimental consequences of infection with the COVID-19 virus. 

But, efforts to protect the vulnerable population are in effect. The number of elderly individuals who have received their 2-dose regimen and booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has increased at a high rate. The staff members working in these homes are vaccinated as well. 

This has proven to be beneficial because the number of COVID-19 cases that progress to severe conditions and death has been decreasing.

The number of deaths from long-term care homes that have not experienced outbreaks will be released when the data becomes available. 

How Many COVID-19 Long-Term Care Outbreaks Have Occurred?

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control released their most recent update for independent living, assisted living, and long-term care outbreaks on January 26, 2022. 

When data was being gathered, there were 48 reported active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted-living facilities. Additionally, 21 more outbreaks happened during the week before the report was released. In total, 69 outbreaks have been reported. 

From the reported outbreaks, 43 individuals died of COVID-19 in a span of one month. This occurred from December 26, 2021, to January 25, 2022. Within the same period, 139 deaths related to COVID-19 were reported in the whole of B.C. This means that around 31% of reported deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C. are associated with the long-term care outbreaks that were declared. The computed value is somehow similar to the reported percentage by Dr. Henry. 

Statistics on Long-Term Care Outbreaks

Numbers also show that the long-term care outbreaks that are occurring now have better health outcomes than those that occurred during the previous waves when vaccination was not as rampant. Only 20 out of the 69 outbreaks in B.C. reported cases of deaths due to COVID-19. The remaining outbreaks did not have any reported deaths. 

This means that despite the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, these are not as fatal compared to those that occurred prior. In January of last year, around two-thirds of the long-term care outbreaks reported deaths. The number of COVID-19 cases was also much higher than it is now. 

Infection with the omicron variant does not produce as many severe cases as the delta variant did. Vaccinations and boosters are proving to be an effective way to help save lives. 

More mild cases of COVID-19 may also mean that deaths that occur in long-term care homes could not have been directly due to COVID-19. However, regulations still state that any individual with a positive result on the COVID-19 test who dies within 30 days is categorised as a COVID-related death. 

Protection of the most vulnerable populations remains a priority of the government. Revising the regulations will ensure that these outbreaks are recognized and, subsequently, can be attended to with the utmost urgency so that deaths can be prevented.

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