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More than 260 Ontario long-term care residents died after getting COVID-19 in last four months

Respiratory virus outbreaks in Ontario’s long-term care homes remains dominated by COVID-19, with nearly 16,000 cases of the virus reported in the last four months.

According to a newly released report by Public Health Ontario, there have been 850 confirmed outbreaks in long-term care homes since Aug. 27, 2023.

This is compared to 32 influenza outbreaks and 32 Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) outbreaks.

A facility has an outbreak when there are two or more test-confirmed cases with an epidemiological link.

During this time period there were 15,958 reported cases among residents and staff, including 373 hospitalizations. Two hundred and sixty-three residents died after contracting the disease.

Six deaths occurred in residents who had been diagnosed with influenza and four were related to RSV.

The numbers were slightly lower in retirement homes, with 720 reported COVID-19 outbreaks and just over 10,000 cases among residents and staff. Fifty-five deaths were reported since late August.

The new data comes amid a surge of respiratory illnesses, with wastewater surveillance indicating a significant rise in COVID-19 across Ontario.

As of Jan. 3, the province has a test positivity rate of just over 19 per cent for the coronavirus, whereas influenza has a test positivity of under 10 per cent.

A “high” positivity rate for COVID-19 has been classified as being between 17 and 25 per cent.

These numbers only take test-confirmed cases into account, so it’s likely all the virus is much more prevalent. Wastewater surveillance data published Dec. 21 seems to indicate as such, with the signal standing at 2.96—the highest it’s been for at least a year.

This chart by Public Health Ontario shows wastewater signals for COVID-19 increasing across the province.

In central-east Ontario, excluding the Greater Toronto Area, that number is significantly higher, standing at about 3.51. In central-west it’s just a little lower at 3.26.

In the GTA itself, the wastewater signal is 3.6, the highest across the province.

Experts told CP24 last month that Ontario’s rising COVID-19 wastewater signal could be indicative of wave of COVID-19.

“There was a hope that it had started to plateau by late September, early October,” Dr. Fahad Razak, an internist at St. Michael’s Hospital and the former scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, said in early December.

“But in fact, unfortunately, it’s gone the other direction and continues to rise quite steeply.”’

A decision was made in November to reinstate masking requirements in long-term care in an effort to curb the spread of respiratory illnesses.

The directive impacted staff, volunteers and support workers, who were mandated to wear masks indoors in all resident areas. It was also “strongly recommended” that caregivers and visitors wear masks indoors, except when in a resident’s room or when eating or drinking.

This was the first time masks have been mandated in long-term care since the province dropped the directive in October 2022.

CTV News Toronto reached out to the Ministry of Long-Term Care for information on how it will help reduce outbreaks in 2024, but received no response.

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