Outbreaks fall by just over half as more seniors in long-term care are immunized

Outbreaks in long-term care homes have fallen to fewer than half the number in December, suggesting vaccinations for COVID-19 are working, says B.C.’s seniors advocate.

On Monday, there were 22 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted-living residences, involving 786 residents and 441 staff, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. On Dec. 21, there were 55 outbreaks affecting 1,424 residents and 792 staff.

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“We’re seeing a dramatic drop,” said seniors advocate ­Isobel Mackenzie. “That was predicted and it’s always reassuring when what we predict happens.”

On Wednesday, there were no outbreaks in long-term care or assisted-living residences in the Island Health region.

An outbreak at Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo that infected two staff and seven residents, two of whom died, was declared over on Feb. 5.

The province announced 469 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including 25 new cases in Island Health. That brings the total number of active cases in B.C. to 4,305, of whom 230 are in hospital, including 66 in intensive or critical care.

Since December, all residents and staff in long-term care and assisted living have been offered a first dose of a COVID-19 ­vaccine. About 87 per cent of residents and more than 80 per cent of staff have been ­immunized.

The effectiveness of the vaccines is more than 90 per cent after a first dose. Vaccines are less effective in frail seniors with compromised immune systems, so it’s critical that residents get a second shot, said Mackenzie, but so far, the first doses seem to be working.

The province is also seeing fewer COVID-19 deaths, she said. On Wednesday, six new deaths were reported, for a total of 1,269 COVID-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, most of them residents of long-term care and assisted living.

To date, 157,797 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., 14,316 of which are second doses.

Later this month, health authorities are expected to reach out to seniors 80 and older and Indigenous elders 65 and older with information on how to pre-register for immunization.

The province’s mass-immunization plan will roll out primarily by age, in decreasing five-year increments.

Mackenzie is anticipating a dramatic drop in hospitalizations and deaths once those over age 80 are vaccinated by the end of March. There are about 200,000 people in that age group in the province, about a quarter of whom should already be vaccinated through long-term care.

Premier John Horgan said during a media availability on Wednesday that the province has been working since December on a comprehensive plan to get the message out to all British Columbians, regardless of where they live or what language they speak, when it’s their turn to be vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout and registration information will be well advertised, said Horgan, who called on people to let their elderly neighbours know when it begins.

“We’re asking neighbours of people who are isolated, who may not have access to technology, if you know you’ve got an elderly person living next door to you, contact public health, take that step, be a Good Samaritan, be a good neighbour, and all of us working together, I’m hopeful we’ll see a positive vaccine rollout in the very, very near future.”

Horgan said he’s confident of commitments from the federal government for Pfizer vaccine deliveries this week, next week and beyond.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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