COVID-19: A light at the end of the tunnel

After almost one year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines have started to roll out in Durham Region and it’s starting with one of the population’s most vulnerable – seniors.

Seniors have been one of the hardest hit groups impacted by the virus. In total, there have been 278 COVID-19 deaths in Durham, 214 of which were residents from long-term care homes, nursing homes and retirement homes.

Dorothy nancarrow, a resident at Orchard Villa in Pickering, Ontario, was the first long-term care home resident to receive the vaccine in Durham Region. (Photo submitted)

Dorothy Nancarrow, a resident at Orchard Villa in Pickering, was the first long-term care home resident to receive the vaccine in Durham.

“I feel grateful to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” says Nancarrow. “I know it will keep my family and myself safe.”

Orchard Villa saw a number of outbreaks through 2020, the first of which was declared in March 2020 and resulted in a total of 306 cases and 71 deaths.

Lakeridge Health President and CEO Cynthia Davis says the collaboration among the provincial and regional health partners in coordinating and delivering the vaccine has “enabled Lakeridge Health to make good progress in distributing the vaccine to priority populations in Durham.”

Lakeridge Health was one of 19 hospitals in Ontario to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase One of the province’s three-phase vaccine implementation plan.

Durham Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Kyle says the availability of the vaccine will determine when all long-term care, nursing home and retirement home residents, as well as essential health care workers.

“What we’re trying to do in Phase One of the vaccination plan is to prevent disability and death in our most vulnerable, so it’s a high priority,” says Kyle, noting he expects this part of the vaccine implementation plan to be complete in the coming weeks.

According to the province, since Phase One of the vaccination program began in December 2020, a total of 305,330 doses have been administered, with approximately 9,500 doses being administered daily.

There are currently two vaccines approved for use in Canada – the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Whitby MPP Lorne Coe says administering the vaccines to our loved ones, and those who care for them, is the “beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve all been waiting for.”

Both vaccines require two doses, which should be administered approximately 21 days apart.

Kyle says since there’s not yet much information on long-term protection of the vaccine, it’s important for those that have been vaccinated to continue public health measures as well, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, and staying home.

As part of Phase One of the province’s vaccination implementation program, those eligible to receive the vaccine include all residents, staff, essential caregivers, including family caregivers, and other employees in congregate living settings for seniors; health care workers, including hospital employees, staff who work or study in hospitals and health care personnel; adults in First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations; and adult recipients of chronic home health care.

“These vaccinations represent hope, and as we continue to quickly rollout the first phase of Ontario’s vaccine distribution, we look forward to receiving more doses from the federal government,” he says.

Phase Two of the vaccination plan is expected to begin in March 2021 through to July 2021, depending on the availability of vaccines.

According to the province, approximately 8.5 million people will be vaccinated as part of phase two. Those eligible include older adults, beginning with those 80 and older and decreasing in five-year increments over the course of the vaccine rollout; people who live and work in high-risk congregate settings, such as shelters and community living; frontline essential workers, including first responders, teachers and other education staff, and the food processing industry; individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers; and other populations and communities facing barriers related to the determinants of health across Ontario who are at greater risk of COVID-19.

Phase Three of the plan is expected to begin in August 2021, depending on vaccine availability, and will include all remaining Ontarians in the general population who wish to be vaccinated.

All residents at Abbeylawn Manor in Pickering have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Keeping seniors engaged during a pandemic

Since the start of the pandemic, one of the key concerns has been the impact COVID-19 is having on mental health.
As the province is currently under a stay-at-home order, as was the case with most of 2020, many people continue to struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
While this impacted everyone in a different way, seniors, specifically those living in long term care and retirement homes, have struggled to stay connected and engaged with family and friends as visitation has been limited.
However, many of these facilities quickly switched gears and found different ways to occupy their residents, while also keeping them safe.
David Stein, owner of Abbeylawn Manor in Pickering, says it has been challenging at times to keep the residents active and engaged during the pandemic, however he says what helped was trying to keep everything “business as usual” as much as possible.
“It was challenging, it took its toll at times when they weren’t allowed to see their families,” says Stein, adding residents would do Skype and FaceTime calls and window visits.
“We did it all,” he says, but adding that the overall morale did take a dip.
“There’s no doubt about it. To be honest, they were probably more depressed that they couldn’t have a hairdresser than anything else,” he chuckles. He says a hairdresser would come two days a week and there would always be a lineup.
Since there are no visitors allowed, Stein says his mother-in-law, who is 89 and a retired hairdresser, jumped at the chance to help her friends and cut hair for those who wanted it.
Stein says residents are still able to move freely within the building and go for walks outside, which he says also helps keep the residents moving.
“We’re in a particularly very pretty spot down here with the lake,” he says.
Abbeylawn Manor is home to 75 residents, which Stein says have all been vaccinated, including some of the higher risk staff members.
“We were lucky to get in there early. They’ve all had their first dose,” he says, noting there was no hesitancy among the residents to receive the vaccine.