‘Mystery’ at Plantagenet nursing home as 8 residents and 2 staff test positive but show no symptoms

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis stands in front of a graph showing the undesired peak development of COVID-19 cases, versus the flattened-out effect officials hope to achieve, with cases developing over a longer, more manageable period of time. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

PLANTAGENET — Eight residents and two more staff have tested positive for COVID-19 — all of them showing no symptoms — following a testing blitz carried out Thursday at Pinecrest Nursing home after an employee fell ill and was confirmed positive earlier in the week.

Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis confirmed Friday the results of the blanket testing of all 59 residents and 61 staff at Pinecrest — the first long-term care facility in the five eastern counties to have an outbreak of the virus. (‘Outbreak’ is now defined by the province as any number of cases, as low as one.)

Dr. Roumeliotis says he was “floored” by the newly revealed 10 positive cases because, unlike the first case, all are asymptomatic. “I was actually very surprised,” he said Friday, while also acknowledging the situation could be indicative of COVID-19’s broader reach into the population as a whole.

“I do believe that probably … for every individual we’ve tested [in Eastern Ontario] that is positive, there’s probably a couple of others that have had no symptoms and didn’t realize it and probably had it [COVID-19],” said the doctor during his daily media briefing.

“So, I’m not sure, is that’s what we’re dealing with? … I’ve got to tell you, I was floored when they called me last night to tell me we had positive cases there [at Pinecrest] that were asymptomatic…. And I was like … I couldn’t believe it.”

The doctor said colleagues in Toronto urged him to double-check for symptoms in the residents at Pinecrest, even though staff have been screening for symptoms daily. “The problem is, some of the symptoms in elderly individuals are increased confusion, memory loss and loss of smell, and maybe some of them we can’t get the history straight,” he explained.

“It is a bit of mystery, but it doesn’t surprise me, the premise that people have had it and don’t know. But, again, this is such a special and highly vulnerable situation that I’m looking at it through a different lens.”

The very first case was a healthcare worker who self-isolated after feeling unwell and was confirmed positive on Wednesday, triggering the next day’s mass-testing effort by Prescott and Russell paramedics at the direction of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). Results were received by the EOHU less than a day later.

The doctor didn’t know if that first infected person inadvertently brought the virus to the home or picked up the bug from inside Pinecrest, saying it’s part of the ongoing investigation.

All other nursing home residents and staff in the region will be tested, according to the doctor, under a more aggressive directive issued by the province this week.

“Our priority is to get a handle on our long-term care facilities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the new cases in Plantagenet will send the region’s COVID-19 curve “way up,” he acknowledged.

The total number of recorded cases had stood at 78 as of Thursday night. The new group of 10 will push the figure to 88 (though it’s not yet shown on the EOHU website.) Thirty-six people in the EOHU region have recovered from the illness since the pandemic began, and no one has died.

The province as a whole has recorded 13,519 cases and 763 deaths to date. Residents of long-term care homes account for about half of the death toll.

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