Five Canadian soldiers deployed to hard hit long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic have tested positive for the illness, the Canadian Armed Forces said Friday.
Four of the cases are in Quebec, the hardest hit Canadian province, and one is in Ontario, officials said.
The Canadian military deployed nearly 1,700 soldiers to nursing homes to reinforce regular staff overwhelmed by deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in dozens of facilities.
Quebec, which accounts for more than half of Canada’s infections, has seen severe COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, including one in the Montreal area where residents in a private nursing home had been nearly abandoned by the staff.
Premier Francois Legault asked for the military’s help shortly after that case was publicized and Ontario Premier Doug Ford followed suit.
Canadian Forces members are now working in 25 long-term care homes in Quebec and in five in Ontario. Most are in support roles: cleaning, serving food and assisting with residents’ basic needs. The military says all have been equipped with personal protective equipment and training in how to use it.
“The risk to our personnel remains high due to the fact that we are often operating in high-risk COVID-19+ threat environments and working in close proximity with persons who have either tested positive or are exhibiting COVID-19 related symptoms,” the Forces said in a statement Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed news of the infections at his daily media briefing on Friday but did not provide details.
“There are always risks in what they do and they go into that knowingly and willingly, and that is why we offer them our deepest gratitude every day,” Trudeau said.
“At the same time, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect them, so we will look at the protocols in place and see if and how they can be strengthened … ensuring that cases of COVID-19 don’t spread throughout the [Canadian Armed Forces] and others who are serving their country.”
Trudeau said the Forces are considering hazard pay for troops deployed in care homes, akin to what they would get on a dangerous assignment overseas.
With files from The Canadian Press and CBC News