“Among the staff, 23 people tested positive and 153 show symptoms of Covid-19,” he said, adding that all of those staff members were in self-quarantining at home.
Infected staff members or fears that employees may pass the virus on to elderly residents have also left several nursing homes grappling with understaffing, with volunteers sometimes stepping in to fill a role.
“In some nursing homes, half of the staff is now absent,” Lardinois said. “Sometimes because they’re ill, but often because they don’t want to come to work out of fear of infection.”
Elderly populations are among those with the highest risk of developing the most serious Covid-19 symptoms and make up a majority of deaths in Belgium.
Lack of access to protective equipment is a central reason behind staff member’s anxiety and includes not only nursing staff but also kitchen and cleaning teams.
“We send 300 face masks to each facility every week, but they also require aprons, gloves, glasses,” he said. “We try to buy that, but global stocks are depleted, we have to make do with what we have.”
Recently updated guidelines for Covid-19 cases means that nursing home residents suspected to have contracted the virus can now also benefit from a test.
Nursing homes are meant to file reports on their situation every day to regional health authorities, which can deploy health inspectorates or a mobile task force set up by non-profit Doctors Without Borders to ensure recommendations are correctly followed inside a home.