COVID-19: Diaries from Inside an Oshawa Retirement Residence Undergoing COVID-19 swab testing

Shanelle Somers awaits her COVID-19 test.

Employees and residents at Wynfield Retirement Residence were tested for COVID-19 by paramedics last month. As both a Durham College journalism student and an employee of the Wynfield Retirement Residence, I was tested.

The testing was mandated by Durham Region Health Deparment as a part of the Ontario government’s plan to ensure the safety of all elderly residents living in the province’s long-term care and private retirement facilities.

The Wynfield Retirement Residence has been on full outbreak since the beginning of the month. The home was placed on outbreak by public health as a precaution due to a resident testing positive for the virus while spending time in hospital as an admitted patient due to an existing heart condition.

The general manager of Wynfield, Lesley Paulino, says placing the residence on COVID-19 outbreak does not add up because the home had tested the resident before they headed to hospital and received negative results.

“They [Public Health] were wrong because we had tested the resident on the 22nd of April and we got the results back on the 24th [of April] which were negative,” says Paulino.

She says the hospital additionally tested the resident two more times during their stay at hospital and each test came back negative.

“Over a week later, then the resident got a positive result [in hospital] and apparently, they were in a COVID wing,” says Paulino. “So, my thoughts were we’ll [Wynfield] do what they [Public Health] tells us to do, but it actually doesn’t make sense.”

The Chronicle reached out to Durham Region Public Health – twice by phone and once by email – for a comment on why the decision was made to place the retirement residence on outbreak but our messages went unanswered.

For two weeks the home’s residents have remained in their rooms every day in order to prevent the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak within the residence.

During this time it was planned for the Durham Health Department to visit the residence to test all residents and employees for COVID-19. Paulino says the goal was to determine if the residence may have had any other positive cases.

Durham Region paramedics showed up at the residence at 9 a.m. on May 15 to begin testing all staff members. Employees were notified to come in if it was their day off or if they were working, they would have a designated time when they would be getting the swab test done.

When the time came for the staff to be tested for COVID-19, many employees felt unsure how their testing would go. They did not know how it would feel or if there would be any complications.

Wynfield business manager Kathy Roberge says she was apprehensive about getting the COVID-19 test done and says she anticipated the test being worse than it actually was.

“It was nice to be there with all the staff to see everybody as a team,” says Roberge. “You know, wanting to get it done, and it just showed how much of a great team we have at Wynfield to make sure all our residents are safe and that we’re COVID free.”

As staff members all waited their turn to get tested many questioned their co-workers what it was like. Testing was quick and easy for the paramedics as they went through testing each staff member.

Many staff members described the experience as getting pop up your nose or having the sensation of needing to blow your nose or sneeze afterwards. Many staff members also commented on how their eyes watered at one point during the test.

“I had to blow my nose after because it still felt like the swab was in my nose,” says newly hired employee Janneke Van Staveren.

I would describe it as an uncomfortable but bearable experience. I went into the test feeling a little nervous, but not frightened to have the test completed.

I wanted to get in and get out and be COVID free so I could continue to work to help protect the residents at the Wynfield. I remained calm and the test went well.

Ultimately, the test for me felt like chlorinated pool water going up your nose after doing a somersault as a kid in my parent’s swimming pool. Just a slight burn and tingly feeling.

However, the experience was different for everyone. Some staff members felt more of a burning sensation or were afraid to have the test completed.

“Literally it was the most uncomfortable thing I have had in my whole life, my eyes were not watering I was crying,” says prep cook Caleel Douglas. “Just the fact they were doing this to me, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”

A day later the residents of the home were each tested in their rooms for the virus. After each resident was tested Public Health lifted the precautionary COVID-19 outbreak at the home.

“I felt so horrible. Because the staff took it well, they took it like a champ,” says Paulino. “But the residents, it was so hard when it came to test certain residents with cognitive impairment, it was really hard to see.”

However, Paulino says some residents dealt with getting the COVID-19 testing well and even thanked the paramedics once their test was completed.

Once every resident had been successfully tested for the virus, some restrictions were lifted by the residence.

Residents are now able to leave their rooms to take a quick walk around on the property of the home while remaining socially distanced and will soon be able to resume washing and drying their dirty clothes on each floor’s laundry room.

Resident Erwin Waldinsperger says it has been wonderful to be allowed outside to get fresh air and says he remained positive throughout the outbreak.

“Well I didn’t let it get depressing; I made the best of it that I could,” says Waldinsperger. “I had to think positive and knowing that we were going to have the tests done it was going to be reassuring that we didn’t have it [COVID-19], I just made the best of it – I am hoping everything will come out OK.”

However, not all restrictions have been lifted. Until all test results come back negative, residents at the home will continue to have all meals in their rooms and are discouraged from congregating in the common areas. All amenities remain closed.

Paulino says working with the team at the Wynfield Retirement Residence during the COVID-19 pandemic has made a stressful and uncertain situation the best it could be, and she also says it’s been very humbling.

“Whenever I have a moment to myself to stop and think I do cry sometimes because I am crazy humbled,” she says.

Currently, the home is waiting on the results of all tests from Public Health.