MONTREAL — The worker at a Quebec City long-term care home who died of COVID-19 on Jan. 2 was one of the thousands of people who answered the province's call to be trained as patient attendants over the summer, a union official said Tuesday.
The president of a union representing health-care workers in the Quebec City area said Oscar Anibal Rodriguez, who was in his late 50s, had worked in a "red" zone on the fourth floor of the CSHLD St-Antoine, caring for COVID-19 patients.
Richard Boissinot said he didn't know much about Rodriguez, except that he agreed to train for a career caring for elders during the health crisis and is believed to be originally from Argentina.
"It's a new employee who came to help us for the COVID-19 crisis, and unfortunately he's no longer with us," Boissinot said in a phone interview.
A spokesman for the local health authority said Tuesday the worker had been employed at the CHSLD St-Antoine since mid-June.
The home was among the first in the province to administer COVID-19 vaccines, but the health authority says the deceased worker hadn't received one.
Premier Francois Legault announced last June that the province would hire 10,000 patient attendants, at a salary of almost $50,000 a year, in an effort to address understaffing and poor working conditions that contributed to the thousands of deaths in care homes in the spring. Boissinot confirmed Rodriguez was one of those who signed up and completed the accelerated training course over the summer.
He said that while the recruits' integration into the workplace has gone well overall, many are facing difficult working conditions in facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks.
Staffing is once again a challenge, despite the added manpower, since many employees have left the job or are sick or isolating, he said.
"Often, instead of having six or seven clients like they normally would, they have 10, 12 to take care of," he said.
The COVID-19 situation at CHSLD St-Antoine is listed as "critical" by the Quebec government, with 98 infections and 12 deaths as of Jan. 3. This is despite the fact the home began inoculating residents on Dec. 14.
While Rodriguez hadn't received a vaccine, the health authority confirmed that some of the others who have tested positive had received their first shot.
Mathieu Boivin, a spokesman for the CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale, said the discovery of new positive cases was not a surprise, especially since workers and residents have only received one vaccine dose, and since many were likely exposed before they received the vaccine or could develop antibodies from it.
"The 95 per cent efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is expected following the second dose, given 21 days after the first," Boivin wrote in an email.
"The immune response is therefore not complete and instantaneous, and we did not expect a significant impact on the ongoing outbreak until about two weeks post-vaccination, which is normal for most vaccines."
He said the efficacy of the first vaccine dose still appears to be more than 90 per cent, 14 days after it is given.
Boivin said the vaccination program at the home would not be affected by the outbreak.
Both he and Boissinot said the outbreak at the care home highlights the importance of continuing to respect health measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing, even as vaccination proceeds.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 5, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press