“I’m most looking forward to a hug. I haven’t had a hug in 11 months.” — Jenny Bailey, 81.

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Anna Hendrickson, 97, received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this week.

“We’re so grateful and relieved,” her daughter, Diane Barnhill, said on Friday shortly after her weekly visit.

Hendrickson lives at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, which recorded Canada’s first COVID-19 death almost one year ago.

In the months since, B.C.’s care homes have been shaken by loss and struggled under restrictions that have prevented residents from connecting with loved ones.

But weekly data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control suggests there may be reason for cautious optimism.

With COVID-19 vaccines offered to all long-term care residents and staff in B.C., cases and deaths across the province appear to be dropping.

From Feb. 1 to 16, there have been 13 new cases and no deaths in long-term care, compared to 379 new cases and 60 deaths connected to outbreaks declared from Jan. 1 to 31, and a peak of 1,839 new cases and 341 deaths connected to outbreaks declared from Nov. 1 to 30.


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While there are 14 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living facilities, six have been added to the list since the beginning of the month and they have so far remained small, at four cases or less. In comparison, during January, there were 21 new outbreaks, and in November, 62.

B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said B.C. is “seeing what we hoped we’d be seeing” after a majority of care home residents and staff were vaccinated.

While some of the decrease is likely due to lower community transmission, as cases in the general public were also falling in early February, the reduction in care home cases has been even more dramatic, signalling vaccination programs are working.

“The good news is that we’re clearly seeing evidence of the vaccine,” said Mackenzie. “But there is still a need for caution. We need to take all the precautions. Outbreaks are not at zero and the vaccine is not 100-per-cent effective.”

The seniors advocate said she is concerned about how some care homes are interpreting the provincial health orders and guidance around essential visitors as it varies from facility to facility.

“Things will have to go back to normal,” she said, emphasizing that a long-term care facility is a person’s home and they cannot be cut off from their loved ones indefinitely.

Jenny Bailey, 81, lives in an assisted living facility near Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. She has received one dose of the vaccine and should get another in a few weeks. She visits with her daughter on an outdoor patio to be careful.


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“I’m looking forward to a hug. I haven’t had a hug in 11 months,” she said.

Residents and staff at Tabor Home in Abbotsford, where an outbreak before Christmas led to 26 deaths, had their second dose of the vaccine this week, said Dan Levitt, executive director of Tabor Village.

“There’s a renewed sense of optimism and relief,” he said. “We’re still doing everything we should be doing in terms of PPE and health screenings, so life hasn’t gone back to normal, but psychologically, I think it’s calmer and there’s less anxiety.”

The facility is still dealing with the aftermath of an outbreak that saw five people die in one day in November — the same number of people who died in the entire month of November in 2019. A virtual prayer meeting is planned next week for family and staff who are recovering from the losses.

While COVID-19 variants present a large unknown for the future of the pandemic and B.C.’s care homes, there is “no question people are feeling better,” said Terry Lake, CEO of B.C. Care Providers Association.

He said he doesn’t expect health officials to consider “liberalizing” visitation policies until mid-March, possibly allowing residents to add another social visitor. In the meantime, care home operators are continuing to push for rapid testing to help with screening.

In a joint statement Friday afternoon, Dr. Réka Gustafson, B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer, and Minister of Health Adrian Dix said “preliminary evidence” from the immunization of long-term care residents and staff “shows us COVID-19 vaccines are proving to be highly effective in reducing outbreaks and protecting those who are most at risk of severe illness and death.”

With files by Nathan Griffiths




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