By Katrina Clarke Spectator Reporter
Mon., April 20, 2020
A new pilot project will see some 3,000 asymptomatic residents and staff at Hamilton and area care settings tested for COVID-19.
On Monday, St. Joseph’s Health System and Niagara Health announced a pilot project is underway to test all asymptomatic patients, residents and some staff in its long-term care homes, retirement homes and congregate settings, such as hospices.
The goal is to gain a better understanding of how the virus spreads, how can spread be prevented and what testing strategies are most effective when the subjects are concentrated in one place, said Dr. Jack Gauldie, vice-president of research at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
“Right now, we stand outside long-term care homes and we don’t know how many people are carriers in there, how many people are affected,” Gauldie said. “The earlier you catch something, the earlier you can do something about it.”
The announcement comes a week after the province said more people in long-term care settings would be tested for the virus. Testing of all asymptomatic staff and residents at “select homes” would take place, said Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton.
Dr. Tom Stewart, CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System, said those involved with the pilot project wanted to be ahead of the curve.
“Let’s get an understanding of are there patients in there that are asymptomatic that could be the cause of a future outbreak?” Stewart said. “Let’s collect more information.”
Testing is already underway.
According to a release, 111 long-term care residents have so far been tested for COVID-19 “whether they had symptoms or not” as part of the pilot. All tests were negative. Staff have the option of being tested.
All 3,000 tests are expected to be carried out this week, Stewart said.
Facilities included in the pilot project include St. Joseph’s Villa in Dundas, St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph, St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre Brantford and Stedman Community Hospice in Brantford, St. Joseph’s Home Care First Place retirement living in Hamilton and the Niagara Health long-term care unit in Welland.
Hamilton public health, meanwhile, has carried out “mass testing” of staff and residents at seniors’ care homes, said Dr. Bart Harvey, Hamilton’s associate medical officer of health, on Monday.
Mass testing sites include Cardinal Retirement Residence, Chartwell Deerview Crossing Retirement Residence and Kingsberry Retirement Residence. Outbreaks are ongoing at each location.
So far, 45 residents and 17 staff at Cardinal have tested positive. Six died. One staff member at Chartwell Deerview tested positive and three Kingsberry residents have tested positive.
Harvey said mass testing gives public health “a much better idea of what efforts are needed and what strategies are needed to curb any further transmission.”
Long-term care homes across the country have been the epicentre of deadly COVID-19 outbreaks for more than a month. Half of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths stem from long-term care homes, said Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, last week.
As of Monday, 16 people in Hamilton have died from COVID. All but four were residents of one of two long-term care homes — Heritage Green and Cardinal — or Emmanuel House Hospice.
The pilot project is a joint effort and includes researchers at the Research Institute of St. Joe’s Hamilton, McMaster University, Hamilton Regional Laboratory Medicine Program, Guelph Family Health Team and GTA public health units.
Gauldie said once the project is complete, experts will analyze data, looking at how to minimize glitches, maximize efficiency and improve accuracy.
“We need to see how to do it correctly,” he said.
Katrina Clarke is a Hamilton-based reporter at The Spectator. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org