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Health unit still assisting Roberta Place to prevent further outbreaks

Dr. Charles Gardner says public health officials continue to work with staff at Essa Road facility in a 'very co-operative and team-like manner'

The city’s most devastating COVID-19 outbreak began Jan. 8 and officially ended Feb. 18, but the region's top public health official says vigilance is required to prevent it any more deaths or positive cases.

The deadly outbreak at the Roberta Place long-term care home in south-end Barrie lasted 41 days and took the lives of 71 people after nearly a year of hearing about what needed to be done to protect the most vulnerable.

In Tuesday's call with reporters, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner was asked how such a tragedy can be avoided again following what was learned from the Roberta Place tragedy.

“It's important for all of our homes to do all that they can to be prepared for an outbreak and to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak,” Gardner said. “Address findings that have come about due to assessments, and our homes have been through assessments. Often assessments are done by the health unit as well.”

One of the main things long-term care homes have going for them now is the influx of vaccines coming to the Simcoe-Muskoka region.

“One of the key things to protect homes is now in place for homes and that is immunization of the residents and the staff,” Gardner said. “The immunization option was not available to many of the Roberta Place residents due to the timing of the outbreak.”

At the time vaccines were being brought to the Essa Road long-term care home, the majority of the staff and residents were already infected with the B.1.1.7 UK variant, making them unable to be inoculated. 

Advisement and guidance is what the health unit is accessible to anyone who wants it. 

“We are most definitely available for advice. In any facility where there has been an outbreak, we can issue orders if necessary and certainly provide them with direction for what is needed in response to the situation,” Gardner said. 

The local health uit still has orders in place for Roberta Place and continues to work closely with the facility as they go through a plan of action to ensure the facility is safe. 

“That is happening in a very co-operative and team-like manner,” said Gardner. “We obviously make requirements of other homes as well as needed related to other outbreaks.”