Memo to: People we Support, Families, Guardians and Skills Society Employees
Re: Skills Society Update – Prevention and Preparedness Regarding the Novel-Corona Virus (COVID-19)
From: Executive Director and Senior Leadership of Skills Society
August 11, 2020 Update
As per usual we always start by reminding our Skills community we continue to follow direction and information provided by Health Authorities. As you know, the situation with COVID-19 is constantly evolving and we are always working diligently to be as responsive to new information as possible and do everything in our power to protect the citizens with disabilities we serve, our employees and community.
Message from Executive Director, Ben Weinlick
Very Important Information
Community spread of COVID-19 is on the rise in Alberta and all over the world. In Alberta, case numbers are rising but so far still low compared to other jurisdictions. We need to remain vigilant. As health authorities keep saying, COVID-19 is not gone and will likely be around for a while still. It is up to all citizens to do our part to follow provincial health mandates and city bylaws on masking. It is also very important that none of our employees become complacent around implementing any of our COVID-19 procedures and protocols. Very, very important is that anyone with symptoms (including mild symptoms) should stay at home and cannot come to work. I know there are many out there with a strong work ethic and a sense of duty to go into work. During this pandemic, this is not heroic in any way and puts people at risk to ignore mild symptoms of COVID-19. Stay home if you are even mildly sick. We haven’t heard of employees ignoring symptoms in our Skills community, but I want to make sure it is crystal clear that you’re being more of a hero to stay home and get tested immediately if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.
As you know we have been planning, strategizing and implementing safety protocols for months. We have sought direction from health authorities to shape cautious prevention measures to swiftly safeguard as best we can in the event of a positive case of COVID-19 in people we serve and employees. All of our COVID-19 safety measures and protocols come from recommendations from Health Authorities (the CMOH in particular) and our key funder the Government of Alberta CSS. We have almost 500 employees and support about 375 individuals who live in their own homes throughout the Edmonton community. Fortunately, the living arrangements of the majority people we support are small (2-3 people) and as Dr. Hinshaw has said in the past, this is a good safeguard to contain spread in the event of COVID-19 cases. We have also significantly reduced the amount of staff working in multiple sites. This measure has had to be balanced with the immediate health and safety needs of people we serve and staff. People rely on our support to be safe in their homes.
First confirmed case of COVID-19
On August 8th it was reported to us that we have our first confirmed case of COVID-19 amongst active staff. As per our policy, employees must report immediately to Skills Society if they test positive for COVID-19. The employee who reported a positive test result was asymptomatic and continues to have no symptoms despite testing positive for COVID-19. To be clear, as of today (August 11th) we have NO confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst anyone we support nor any other active employees other than this one employee.
We cannot release who tested positive or which home the employee works in due to confidentiality. But I can assure you that swift action has been taken. No individuals in this small home living arrangement where we support people are symptomatic, nor any other employee connected to this home. All connected individuals, guardians, and staff were contacted right away and asked to get an asymptomatic test. PDD and the Office of the Public Guardian were notified as well and of course the Health Services COVID-19 Response Team and outbreak control have been advising and guiding us from the first moment we heard the news of the positive case. It was reassuring that health authorities jumped in to help us as they said they would when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19.
“One key thing that was reported to me and hopeful was that, because we have had continuous masking, enhanced cleaning procedures, hand washing expectations, twice daily symptom checks for all staff and individuals we support, the AHS COVID Response Team expressed that the risk of transmission to more people, even within the home, is lower.”
Staying calm in the face of uncertainty
As you could imagine, news of a positive case of COVID-19 in anyone we support or an employee would cause concern and a bit of chaos when first coming to light. I am very proud and grateful for the calm way in which our protocols were put into play. Big thank you to the leadership, on-call weekend responders, AHS COVID-19 Response Team, employees who were notified and also to the employee who tested positive for remaining calm and acting immediately and swiftly. I have checked in with this employee as well, offering our support and compassion during a stressful time.
There is still so much that Health Authorities and virus experts do not know about COVID-19. There is some data currently showing that about 40% of people who contract COVID-19 will have no symptoms at all and never know they had it. Of the remaining 60% of people that have COVID-19, about 80% will have very mild cold/flu like symptoms. 20% will have more severe symptoms, most will still be fine but a much smaller percentage 3-4% (maybe less) will have more severe outcomes usually complicated by pre-existing conditions and being 65 years of age or older. It is not a disease to take lightly or dismiss as simply being like a cold or flu. We continue to take this pandemic very seriously. We are being extra cautious and will continue to do everything in our power to safeguard people as best we can.
Grateful to Health Authorities
We were also impressed with the guidance from the AHS COVID-19 Response Team. When there is a positive case, they step in right away and advise. One key thing that was reported to me and hopeful was that, because we have had continuous masking, enhanced cleaning procedures, hand washing expectations, twice daily symptom checks for all staff and individuals we support, the AHS COVID Response Team expressed that the risk of transmission to more people, even within the home, is lower. Continuous masking in particular is a very powerful tool to stop the spread. Please continue to ensure all employees follow our continuous masking procedures. It works.
What we’re learning so far from this event
Here are a few key things we have learned from reflecting on this event and from what we learned from Health Authorities and AHS COVID-19 response and outbreak teams:
- Health Authorities have commented many times now that COVID-19 is in all our communities and is unfortunately the new normal we all have to adapt to.
- We’re all in this together. Going to a place of blame is not helpful. COVID-19 is everywhere in the province now.
- Due to Health authorities designating us a “group living site” most often health practitioners will come to the place where we support people to complete the COVID test
- Focus on what we can control. We, and Health Authorities, cannot control all variables related to this virus. But implementation of CMOH Health recommendations in our safety procedures, protocols and swift action are some of the best strategies out there to limit spread and keep people safe.
- Health Authorities get involved right away and help us. It’s in everyone’s best interest to contain a spread even if it is just one person carrying COVID-19.
- Our continuous masking procedures, twice daily symptom checks, and regular hand washing are powerful tools to limit spread even if around someone with confirmed COVID-19.
- Asymptomatic testing is lower on the AHS priority list than testing when people have symptoms.
- Importance of Skills Society leadership doing their best to communicate to the appropriate parties what is known, what we’re still waiting to find out and what we’re doing at present. Keeping people in the loop as best possible is key.
- There can potentially be an impact on staffing and having to work with Health Authorities to determine who can and can’t work. Again our masking safeguards are very important and impact this.
- Everyone doing their best to remain calm is key, checking in with each other and supporting each other.
- Again if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in anyone we support, no staff will be compelled to have to work. We still have our time and a half pay when an employee might decide to support a person with confirmed COVID-19 and as long as proper PPE is in place.
Any Albertan who wishes to be tested for COVID-19 can be tested, even if they don’t have symptoms. Health Authorities and CMOH recommend Albertans to get tested whether they have symptoms or not. Testing helps the Government of Alberta monitor the spread of COVID-19 and the government has expanded asymptomatic testing at pharmacies. To see which pharmacies offer testing and their contact information to book a test, visit Alberta Blue Cross by clicking here and downloading the list.
If you have any of the following symptoms you are legally required to isolate for at least 10 days from the start of your symptoms or until they resolve, whichever is longer:
- Cough (new cough or worsening chronic cough)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (new or worsening)
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
If you have any of the following symptoms (new or worse than usual), stay home and use the online assessment to get tested:
- Painful swallowing
- Muscle or joint aches
- Stuffy nose
- Feeling unwell in general, or new fatigue or severe exhaustion
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or unexplained loss of appetite)
- Loss of sense of smell or taste
- Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye
Any person who wants to be tested can now be tested, even if they don’t have symptoms.
Book a testing appointment online with the AHS assessment tool, or call Health Link 811 for assistance: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Journey/COVID-19/Pages/COVID-Self-Assessment.aspx
Masking: An Important Safeguard
As of August 1, 2020, wearing a mask or face covering is mandatory in all indoor public places and public vehicles in Edmonton. More information on the Temporary Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw can be found on the City of Edmonton website by clicking here.
The CMOH continues to encourage all Albertans to wear a non-medical mask anywhere where physical distancing (i.e., 2 meters) cannot be maintained, especially indoors. As per our ‘Social Distancing for People we Serve Procedure’, it is still strongly recommended that the people we support wear a mask while in community. Below is an infographic from the World Health Organization with do’s and don’ts for wearing a non-medical mask safely and may be a helpful resource for the people we support and their loved ones. More information on how to choose and wear a non-medical mask can be found on the Government of Alberta website by clicking here.
As per CMOH Order 23-2020 and our Continuous Masking Procedure all Skills employees providing direct support are required to wear medical masks while at work when providing direct support in the homes of the people we support.
Risk of Unknown Exposure to COVID-19
As part of the guidance for safe visiting, CMOH outlines the importance for visitors to understand risks of unknown exposure to COVID-19. Order 29-2020 includes a table which guides visitors in assessing their behaviour within the last 14 days and risk of unknown exposure to COVID-19. This is in addition to (does not replace) health assessment screening in these settings. The table is included below for individuals and guardians to reference with visitors should they choose.
Mental Health Resources
Alberta Health Services webpage ‘Help in Tough Times’ offers a comprehensive list of supports and resources for Albertan during stressful times. This webpage also includes COVID-19 online resources and where to find and access support. You can visit their website by clicking here.
The Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-877-303-2642.
We greatly appreciate your patience and support as we continue to navigate these times. We are in stage 2 of relaunch and it will likely be awhile until a vaccine is available and we are back to normal ways of operating. Please know that we are working our hardest to keep the people we serve and our staff as safe as possible.
Ben Weinlick, Executive Director and the Senior Leadership Team
For More Information
- If you are a family or guardian and require additional information please be in touch with the Manager associated with your loved one’s support.
- If you are a Skills Employee and require additional information you can be in touch with your supervisor or pandemic coordinators, Linda or Ed at 780-496-9686.
- Keep up to date on our COVID-19 Resources section on our website: https://www.skillssociety.ca/covid-19-resources/.
Previous Public Memos
Public Memos are available on our website under the ‘news’ tab.
Note: What’s happening with COVID-19 is changing rapidly. We become aware of new information from the provincial and federal governments and health authorities on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. We are working hard to be responsive to this new information as it becomes available. As such, information in this memo may change and quickly become outdated. We are doing our best to communicate new information to the people we support, families, guardians, and staff in a timely manner.