Death toll climbs in London’s seniors’ facilities as COVID-19 numbers continue to stabilize

The London region has seen another COVID-19-related death as the case count inches closer to 350, but public health officials are confident that the peak in cases in the region has most likely passed. 

The latest person to die from the virus is a woman in her 80s and her case is linked to a long-term care home, officials said Wednesday. 

There have now been 23 deaths in the region, nine of which are connected to long-term care homes. The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) will not say where the deaths occurred, but CBC has confirmed at least two were at Henley Place. 

Meanwhile, the Ontario Nurses Association is in court Wednesday alleging that at least four long-term care homes in the province, including Henley Place, failed to give nurses access to proper personal protective equipment. 

The MLHU also reported nine new COVID-19 cases in the region and three are linked to seniors’ facilities.

While the region’s case tally is now sitting at 343, public health officials said the percentage of positive cases continues to decline and data shows the region is either at the peak or possibly past it. 

“Because our numbers are smaller than the provincial numbers, they’re bouncing around a little bit more,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health for the MLHU. 

“Being below 10 [cases] today is very reassuring,” he said, adding that the figures in combination with a decrease in the number of beds being used in critical care units suggest that the peak has passed in the region.

However, that does not mean COVID-19 will go away anytime soon. In fact, Dr. Mackie said it will be a “slow burn.”

“This is not an outbreak that disappears overnight,” he said. “It’s something that will be with us for the coming weeks and so we absolutely need to remain vigilant, continue to practising those distancing methods and respect public health measures.”

“If we’re able to do that, then it will be within a few weeks that we can say that this pandemic wave is really behind us.”

When is the economy restarting?

Dozens of businesses have boarded up their windows in London. For more than a month now, restaurants and bars have been closed. Only those offering take-out and delivery are continuing to operate. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

Last week, the province announced they would be extending the state of emergency until May 12.

The extension of the declaration allows the province to continue to enforce the closure of non-essential businesses, bars, restaurants, outdoor recreation facilities and allows the restriction of social gatherings, among other emergency orders which have had tremendous impacts on the economy. 

During a morning interview with CFRA radio in Ottawa, Premier Doug Ford had said current restrictions may be relaxed in time for the May long weekend. However, during an afternoon briefing, Ford clarified his position and said that no changes would be made until Ontario’s top public health officials recommend doing so. 

Mayor Ed Holder said that like any municipality, the city follows directions from the provincial government and it’s uncertain when businesses will be allowed to start up again. 

“We will do nothing in London, Ontario unless we are absolutely confident that the interest and health and safety of Londoners is paramount,” the mayor said.

“While I get the rush to want to reopen the economy … we will not ever do it at the expense of human life, it’s too precious.” 

The City of London ramped up its measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including physical distancing measures for pedestrians and cyclists. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Dr. Mackie said that while the positive percentage of cases is declining, disease levels are still high and physical distancing and the closure of non-essential businesses is crucial to getting disease levels back down. 

“It’s only because of the strong distancing measures that we’ve all been practising that our hospitals have not been overwhelmed,” he said.

“Big kudos to you, but we are not done, I can’t emphasize it enough. We still have weeks to go, but we’re on the right path and we’re doing it together.”

New deaths, more cases and recovery centres set up in surrounding counties

Southwestern Public Healths reported a new death in the region Wednesday.

Elgin and Oxford counties also saw an additional four cases, bringing their tally up to 51.

Health officials in Grey Bruce reported two new cases, bringing the total in the region to 66. 

Officials in the area also announced that two new recovery centres have been set up, one in Kincardine and the other in Hanover. 

The centres are there to lessen the burden on local hospitals brought on by the virus. Officials said the centres are on a stand-by basis and will only be operational if they are needed. 

“We are well serviced by a strong health care system. But, by setting up these Community Recovery Centres, we are providing a second layer to bolster that system as it comes under the stress of COVID-19,” said Dr. Ian Arra, the medical officer of health for Grey Bruce. “This is one way we can prepare to lessen the potential negative impacts of the outbreak.” 

The centres are not intended for critical care, but rather to provide additional patient support, including the non-critical overflow of patients who may be returning to long-term care or retirement facilities.

Meanwhile, Huron-Perth reported one new case in Huron County. There have now been 39 cases and 23 of those have been resolved. 

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