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VCH eyes changes to COVID-19 outbreak criteria at long-term care

Last Updated Jan 13, 2021 at 3:06 pm PST

FILE - Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver Coastal Health is considering making changes to what qualifies as a COVID-19 outbreak at long-term care

VCH chair says health authority is looking at possibly raising the threshold for what constitutes an outbreak in LTC

Under current policy, one case of COVID-19 at a LTC facility in VCH region triggers a declaration of an outbreak

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Vancouver Coastal Health is considering changes to what qualifies as an outbreak at long-term care facilities.

Dr. Penny Ballem, chair at VCH, says they’re looking at changing the current criteria, in which one positive case of the virus triggers the declaration of an outbreak at a care home.

“We’re looking at whether or not we can raise the threshold a little bit because when you declare an outbreak, we mobilize significant numbers of staff to move in and do what’s necessary,” said Ballem, who has been appointed as the person to oversee B.C.’s vaccine rollout program.

“At this point, we’ve used a very low barrier all the way through the last 10 months because it allowed us to focus on the significant risk of long-term care, so whether it was one staff or one resident we declared an outbreak,” she told reporters.

Ballem, a former city manager in Vancouver and deputy minister of health, added now that most people in long-term care facilities across the region have received their first dose of the vaccine — or will have by the end of this week — raising the threshold for what constitutes an outbreak can be done.

“In Vancouver Coastal, we’ve vaccinated all of our residents in long-term care in the urban area and this week we have gone up the coast and are vaccinating those in our more rural settings. By the end of the week, we would have finished all of our long-term care, all the residents, and the majority of the staff,” she said, adding vaccinations will create stronger safety barriers for anyone who may now be at risk of exposure to the virus.

The policy so far has not changed. It’s unclear when a decision might be made.

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Vancouver Coastal Health oversees the care home which has recorded the deadliest outbreak of COVID-19 in the province to date.

Forty-one people have died at Little Mountain Place in East Vancouver. Ballem said Wednesday that the outbreak at the facility has been linked to one resident who was first to test positive in November.

Meanwhile, B.C.’s seniors advocate has promised to investigate all care homes where pandemic death tolls have been highest, including Little Mountain Place.