UPDATE: Outbreak grows as union alleges lack of proper PPE

© Can Stock Photo / Jenifoto

The medical officer of health in Chatham-Kent says everything is being done to manage the COVID-19 outbreak at Fairfield Park Nursing Home in Wallaceburg.

Dr. David Colby said Thursday that the number of COVID-19 cases connected to the outbreak has reached 87. The health unit did not have a breakdown of cases on Thursday but Fairfield  administrator Tracey Maxim reported on Tuesday a total of 32 residents, 26 staff, and one essential caregiver tested positive. Colby said Chatham-Kent went nearly a year without any cases in residents of long-term care.

“You can’t hold back a tsunami forever,” said Colby. “It’s not unique or unusual.”

The union representing workers at Fairfield Park is accusing the employer of not providing medical masks to employees during the outbreak, but local health officials dispute that. Unifor said Fairfield bought non-medical grade masks for its employees and only removed them from circulation when the union found out they were not government approved.

“Fairfield Park is in a terrible outbreak and this owner put their own workers at risk while the virus spread through the building infecting residents and staff,” said Tulio DiPonti, President of Unifor Local 2458. “Premier Ford should pull their licence for contributing to the spread of this terrible virus.”

Fairfield Park Administrator Tracey Maxim is responding to the allegations and said the home has stopped using the masks in question and are conducting an internal investigation about the efficacy and safety of them and she has been in discussions with the local public health unit and hospital officials about the safety of the masks.

“Our long-standing supplier delivered surgical masks in a box that was mislabeled. Despite assurances from the supplier that these masks were the appropriate masks for use in long-term care homes, as soon as this was brought to our attention this week, these masks were immediately pulled from use in our home,” said Maxim. “We have since been in touch with our supplier who has provided a report to our team that the masks were safe for medical use and meet all requirements set out by Health Canada and the Province of Ontario. We have shared this report with Unifor and our internal health and safety committee. It is unfortunate that Unifor has chosen to leave this information out of their news release.”

Colby said all of the masks provided to staff were sourced from a legitimate personal protective equipment (PPE) distributor who purchased them from out of country very early on in the pandemic when masks were in high demand but they have since been given the green light.

“At that time, the manufacturer of the masks hadn’t gone through the Health Canada approval process so they had to make the claim ‘non-medical’. Since then, the. same masks have been appropriately tested and have been found to meet Health Canada’s criteria for medical grade PPE,” the doctor said.

Chatham-Kent Health Alliance CEO Lori Marshall said the Fairfield Park workers are using the same masks that are being used by hospital staff at CKHA. She also said an infection prevention and control manager has been added to the home and there are several local agencies helping at Fairfield to contain the outbreak.

Officials also reported Thursday that the outbreak at the Chatham hospital has three new cases for a total of 19 between the COVID-19 Unit and Medical Unit. The three additional cases are in the Medical Unit. Marshall said 12 staff and five patients are associated with the hospital outbreak and more than 40 staff are isolating at home.

Marshall added the hospital has a total of nine COVID-19 patients — two in the Intensive Care Unit and seven in the COVID-19 Unit. She added the hospital outbreak numbers may differ from the health unit outbreak totals because some patients have been discharged. Marshall admitted she doesn’t know for sure how the outbreak started because her staff has been wearing the proper personal protective equipment but added it’s notable that it’s the hospital’s first outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It [the virus] doesn’t apologize to anyone, including health care providers,” she said.

Meantime, Dr. Colby reported on Thursday that he expects the second shipment of COVID-19 vaccine this week. He said there are still 600 long-term care residents in the area to be vaccinated and the next delivery should be enough to get all local long-term care residents vaccinated.

About 400 residents in local long-term got their shot during the first distribution early last week. The province has changed its deadline to complete the first doses of the vaccine at all long-term care facilities to February 10, 2021.

CK Public Health reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and five resolved cases to bring the total number of active cases to 142. That’s 15 more than the previous day. The total number of outbreaks continues to be nine.