SUDBURY -- Long-term care homes hardest hit by COVID-19 in Ontario are in older facilities where room upgrades have not been completed, says a report this week from Queen’s Park Briefing, an online news service that looks at provincial issues.

That’s significant for Sudbury because Pioneer Manor, a facility run by the city, has 90 of the C-class beds and 27 temporary beds the report identified as most at risk. People in those beds can share a room and washrooms with as many as three or four other residents, making transmission of the virus much easier.

The province ranks LTC home beds from A to D, according to how close they are to meeting or exceeding provincial standards. Pioneer Manor has 433 beds in total, with 284 classed as "A" beds, 25 "B" beds and the remainder are C-class or temporary beds.

"Of the 10 homes where the most residents have died, nine are licensed for C beds," the report said. "Of the 10 homes where the virus has infected or killed 70 per cent or more of the residents so far, eight are licensed for C beds."

However, Pioneer Manor director Aaron Archibald said Tuesday that the maximum occupancy for any room at the home is two residents, regardless of how the beds are classified.

"There's no three-person rooms and there are no four-person rooms," Archibald said.

The older rooms are smaller, however, and both B and C-class rooms have four residents sharing one bathroom.  

Archibald said they have tested all residents and staff – more than 850 tests in total – and the seven confirmed COVID-19 cases were found in people without symptoms.

So far, no link has been found between infections and the class of beds residents live in.

"We’ve hadthree (residents test) positively and two of which were not in C beds," Archibald said. "The four staff members that (tested positive for COVID-19), three of them didn't even work in any areas with C beds."

He says all seven people are doing well and none are exhibiting any symptoms.

All residents who have tested positive have been moved to private rooms, Archibald added.

Plans to renovate the older beds at the care home have been discussed for more than a decade. In 2014, the province launched a new incentive program that would allow the city to recoup half of the $50 million cost of the upgrades, which had to be completed by 2024.

"Assuming that the redevelopment happens, all those beds will be upgraded to A-class," Archibald said. "So, everyone will have their own private bathroom at that point."

City council hired an architect in 2018 to design the redevelopment, but the project failed to garner enough support during the last two city budget votes.

In January, councillors considered using a special 1.5 per cent tax approved this year to fund the work. The tax raised $4.1 million, and a staff report proposed spending the money on a 30-year bond, raising $80 million, more than enough to fund the work.

But the plan was defeated, with Mayor Brian Bigger saying he opposed both the special tax and funding renovations using a 30-year bond.  

For the current outbreak, Archibald said close monitoring of residents is the key to keeping them safe.

"We continue to monitor all of our residents and test anyone that is showing any signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19," he said. "We continue to do aggressive testing there."