Shared rooms responsible for widespread COVID infections and deaths in Ontario, Canadian study finds

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80% of Canada’s coronavirus deaths have been recorded in aged care homes – now a new study of one of the worst-hit provinces has revealed how it proved to be fatal for many of its aged care residents.

The study – by researchers at the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto – looked at over 78,000 residents at 618 aged care homes in Ontario, Canada, from March 29 to May 2020.

The findings show that residents in homes with high crowding (874 of 32,579 residents) were twice as likely to die of COVID (2.7%) than those living in homes with low crowding (578 of 46,028 residents or 1.3%).

Unlike Australia where single rooms are becoming the norm, Canadian homes still have a high number of shared bedrooms and bathrooms. Over 60% of Ontario aged care residents live in shared rooms – and the research suggests these led to larger and deadlier outbreaks.

As of 20 May, in Ontario, 5,218 residents or 6.6% of aged care residents had tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,452 residents or 1.8% had died.

But a simulation found that if all of its four-bed rooms had been turned into two-bed rooms, it could have prevented almost 1,000 cases or nearly 20% of cases and over 260 deaths (18.1%) among residents.

The team concludes that reducing capacity in aged care homes during outbreaks – even by placing residents into hotels – could be critical to cutting the mortality rate.