Outbreaks to optimism: A look at Alberta’s long-term care turnaround
EDMONTON -- March 1 at 1:30 p.m.
That’s when John Brine will get to visit his mother in person for the first time in months.
And this time he shouldn’t need to be draped head to toe in personal protective equipment.
“I’ll be happy to see her and she’ll be happy to see me,” said Brine, of his mother, Patricia.
Patricia Brine, 82, is a resident of Revera South Terrace in Edmonton, one of the hardest hit long-term care facilities in Alberta.
A COVID-19 outbreak in November saw more than 80 residents test positive, including Brine, and at least 27 died, according to Alberta Health. Dozens of staff members also tested positive.
“Could’ve been deep trouble,” said John Brine.
Unlike many of her neighbours, Patricia recovered from COVID-19 and is now one of more than 29,000 Albertans in long-term care to have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Brine family situation epitomizes the stark turn around in Alberta’s long-term care system since the rollout began.
As of Tuesday, approximately 47 or one per cent of active COVID-19 cases were in long-term care. At their peak (776 on Dec. 27), long-term care cases accounted for approximately five per cent of total active cases, according to Alberta Health.
On Monday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the number of long-term care outbreaks with active cases dropped from 74 on Dec. 20 to five on Feb. 16.
She added that active cases in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities have declined 92 and 88 per cent, respectively, since late December.
“Every one of us should take pride in this turnaround, as it is the results of not only our immunization campaign but also of our collective efforts to bring our new case numbers down,” said Dr. Hinshaw.
Exactly what to chalk up the recent success to might seem obvious, but experts say we don’t have strong enough data to pinpoint it quite yet.
“We don’t have official vaccine effectiveness calculations comparing vaccinated to unvaccinated long-term care resident over the same period yet, but I suspect that’s being worked on,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta.
“There’s going to be more data coming out that’s more detailed, but I think there’s no doubt at all that this is making a huge difference to long-term care.”
Dr. Saxinger said the early returns validate decisions to prioritize the elderly population for the vaccine, especially those in congregate living.
She acknowledged numbers are likely to improve even more when seniors in privatized supportive living facilities, who were not included in the initial vaccine rollout to long-term care residents, are immunized.
“Getting that finished, I think, will make a huge difference to their risk of death in that population and it will also allow people to start visiting and getting a better quality of life again as well.”
Meanwhile, Brine is aware his family is one of the lucky ones and is looking forward to a long-awaited hug next week.
“I mean, the worst you can say about her is she’s bored,” he said.
With files from David Ewasuk