WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government went looking for a way to quickly set up exterior visitation rooms at personal care homes across the province — something that could keep residents and their loved ones safe during the COVID-19 pandemic but also comfortable during the frigid winter.
On Tuesday, the government revealed the result: repurposed shipping containers, complete with insulation, heat and even interior finishings to make the boxy structures feel a little homey.
"This is going to make a difference for all those Manitobans who need to have that contact with their family and their friends and their loved ones, no matter what is happening outside of their personal care home," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said.
He said the system is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada and other jurisdictions are looking at the idea.
PCL Constructors Canada Inc. came up with the design. The company plans to refurbish 90 containers and set them up in locations across the province by late fall. The province is paying $17.9 million.
The aim is to ensure that even if COVID-19 numbers grow and restrictions are put in place inside nursing homes, residents and their relatives can continue to meet in a separate space that is safe and cleaned between each visit.
The 13-metre-long units will be connected directly to the exterior of the homes, so that residents are sheltered as they move back and forth. Visitors are to enter from a separate door. And if COVID-19 numbers climb and more protection is needed, a small divider can be put in place between residents and visitors.
The air flow inside the containers is designed to also protect residents.
"The HVAC system draws in fresh air from the care home or the care facility side and ... the air gets drawn out through the visitation side, so that the resident sits on the fresh air side," said Monique Buckberger, PCL Winnipeg district manager.
Personal care homes in Manitoba have not seen the kind of large-scale outbreaks that have occurred in Quebec and Ontario, but there have been some cases since the pandemic began in the spring.
One of the worst outbreaks included the deaths of four residents at the Bethesda Place care home in Steinbach, southeast of Winnipeg. Bethesda is one of 10 long-term care facilities across the province that had restrictions on visitors as of Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, the province reported 17 new COVID-19 infections, for a total active case count of 269. Sixteen people in Manitoba have died from the virus since the pandemic began, health officials said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 15, 2020.