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Today marks one year since start of 'very sad' outbreak at Roberta Place

COVID outbreak at long-term care home in south-end Barrie lasted 41 days and eventually claimed 71 lives

One year ago today marked the start of the COVID-19 outbreak at Roberta Place long-term care home that would last 41 days and claim 71 lives.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit declared the south-end Barrie facility in outbreak on Jan. 8, 2021 and announced it was over more than one month later on Feb. 18. 

There were 67 confirmed resident deaths, three considered probable, and one death of an essential caregiver who was associated with the Essa Road facility.

On Friday, local medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner said there have been 291 deaths to date in Simcoe-Muskoka from COVID-19, with the majority of those occurring among older individuals, including many in long-term care facility outbreaks. 

“The Robert Place outbreak was the largest of these outbreaks and was indeed a very sad incident," Gardner said. "A whole community response was required for the Roberta Place outbreak given its size, speed and severity.

"It was the first outbreak of what was then the new alpha variant, which added greatly to our concern regarding the situation," he added. "I would like to commend the many agencies and individuals for their response, including provincial ministries.”

After further testing, it was determined on Jan. 23, 2021 that the cause of the outbreak was the highly contagious UK B.1.1.7 variant.

To help control the spread of the virus, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) took over direction of the local facility with assistance from Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) and the Red Cross.

On a media conference call on Jan. 26 of last year, Gardner said that Roberta Place was “no longer like a long-term care facility and it is more like an acute care and palliative care facility, in terms of the needs of the residents that are present.”

At one point in the outbreak, 127 of 128 residents all had the virus in the 137-bed long-term care home.

When the outbreak was declared over, David Jarlette, president of Jarlette Health Services which operates Roberta Place, said the announcement was “one of both reflection and promise.”

The local health unit website currently lists 34 active outbreaks in the region, with 15 of those in long-term care facilities.

BarrieToday also asked Gardner if another grim situation like Roberta Place was possible, now that public health officials know more about the virus, and if long-term facilities that are home to some of our most vulnerable people could ever be fully protected. 

With vaccination, Gardner said there has been a high degree of protection for residents of long-term care facilities in more recent waves. 

“Unfortunately, with the omicron variant we are now seeing many breakthrough cases and outbreaks in our long-term care facilities, retirement homes and other congregate settings,” the doctor said. “Fortunately to date, these cases overall have been mild, likely due to the vaccination that they have received.

"However, we need to continue to monitor the severity and to do all we can to limit transmission in these facilities," Gardner added. "As part of this response, we are proceeding with providing a fourth dose of vaccination to residents of long-term care facilities.”