Having now passed the one-year mark of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are able to look back at how we started, what we have done in the past year and how we are working with our partners in the community and in government to continue to keep older adults safe, both on the Baycrest campus and in the community.
BrainMatters spoke with Linh Ngo, Infection Control Practitioner at Baycrest, about what she has learned throughout this pandemic, how the Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) team is keeping Baycrest patients and residents safe, and her advice as the pandemic continues to develop.
Q: CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF SUMMARY OF IPAC PROTOCOLS AT BAYCREST AND HOW THEY HAVE EVOLVED THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC?
Linh: From the beginning, the IPAC team at Baycrest has followed best practices recommended by Public Health Ontario’s (PHO) Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee on Infection Prevention and Control (PIDAC-IPC). PIDAC-IPC advises PHO on the prevention and control of healthcare-associated infections, with a focus on healthcare providers, clients, patients and residents.
When we first learned about COVID-19, it was very early in 2020 and we didn’t have much information to go on. We were starting to make very important decisions but the global health community didn’t have many answers since it was all so new. Our approach then, in line with PIDAC-IPC recommendations, was to be overly cautious. We put in place enhanced precautions for anyone experiencing symptoms, which included airborne, droplet and contact precautions. This was in place until we had a better understanding of the virus and what we were dealing with.
As more information became available, we were able to adjust our protocols. An important milestone for us was when we learned that the virus was not airborne and we only required droplet and contact precautions for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases. This meant that we would be able to care for our patients and residents on campus instead of transferring them to other facilities, an important factor when caring for an older population.
We are now at a point where we have been able to put in place adequate measures to maintain a relatively low case count, keep everyone on campus as safe as possible and work with PHO stakeholders and partners to vaccinate all eligible patients and residents at Baycrest.
Q: HOW HAS THE IPAC TEAM BEEN ABLE TO KEEP BAYCREST RESIDENTS AND PATIENTS SAFE THROUGHOUT THIS PANDEMIC?
Linh: We have worked with various departments at Baycrest to communicate our three major pillars for fighting this virus to our staff, patients and residents: hand hygiene, physical distancing and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Enforcing these three key components across all of the Baycrest campus has not only helped us protect the majority of our staff, residents and patients from COVID-19, but it has also kept everyone healthier by decreasing the risk of other potential viruses, and in some cases, eliminating them altogether – such as
Each year in Canada, it is estimated that influenza, or the flu, causes approximately 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths (Source: Canada Public Health). In the fall of 2019, we started our annual campaign against influenza at Baycrest and the hospital exceeded our target of 80 per cent and achieved an 84 per cent patient vaccination rate. Due to COVID-19 protocols being in place on campus for most of 2020, such as prolonged masking, we haven’t seen influenza at all this year – in fact, we have seen no influenza cases in all of Toronto!
Q: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM HAVING THESE MEASURES IN PLACE? SHOULD WE CONTINUE THEM IN THE FUTURE?
Linh: Getting vaccinated and exercising meticulous hand hygiene is so simple yet so effective. I understand that this can sometimes be uncomfortable but as we work to reach herd immunity and high vaccination numbers in Canada, I hope people are able to remember the importance behind it. I hope people continue to think about what they touch and how viruses and bacteria travel, and continue to prioritize hand hygiene even after COVID-19 is a thing of the past. Something so simple can help prevent infections in the future.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR PEOPLE AT BAYCREST, AND BEYOND THE CAMPUS, AS WE MOVE INTO THE WARMER MONTHS?
Linh: As we move ahead into 2021, my advice for people is to get vaccinated. Vaccines will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. Combining all our existing measures (such as wearing a mask, physical distancing and hand hygiene) with vaccination will be important to help stop the pandemic.
We have to continue to be vigilant and stay as healthy as possible, if not for ourselves, then for those around us. I recommend you speak to your trusted healthcare professional, seek information from trusted sources and don’t believe everything you read – research the source and ask lots of questions.
For me, getting vaccinated was not just about protecting my health, it was about protecting those around me. Working on the front lines, I have been exposed to so much information and I know how deadly this virus can be to everyone, especially older adults at Baycrest and out in the community. Getting vaccinated was something I could do to help keep everyone at Baycrest safe, and keep my own family safe as well.
For the latest COVID-19 information at Baycrest, please visit www.baycrest.org/covid-19
. To support the Baycrest Foundation’s fundraising efforts in Safeguarding Our Seniors, visit www.baycrest.org/sos