MONTREAL -- Nearly 40 people have died between two Quebec long-term care homes that have outbreaks of COVID-19.

It’s not only tragic but demoralizing, say staff, considering the extra infection-limiting measures now in place.

But one health expert says the outbreaks at the homes in Marieville and Brossard should be a reminder that bringing down community transmission is an equally important key to limiting outbreaks among at homes for the elderly.

“If we have unhindered spread in the community, we're going to have an increased risk that a health-care worker or a caregiver or someone that's in these facilities imports the virus into that space,” said Leighanne Parkes, an infectious disease specialist based at the Jewish General Hospital.

Homes for the elderly have stepped up screening, but it’s very hard to effectively screen asymptomatic people who are infected.

“Temperature-taking is done at the entrance to the establishment,” said Denis Grondin, a spokesperson for the union that represents nurses at the Sante-Croix facility in Marieville.

It’s the hardest-hit seniors’ home currently, with 38 residents and more than 50 staff members COVID-positive, and 25 people already dead from the virus.

The temperature-taking doesn’t screen out people who are asymptomatic, said Grondin.

Like last spring, staff are finding themselves working double shifts because so many are out sick, and are wearing down, he said.

“I had one staff calling me in tears,” Grondin. “He says he doesn't see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The situation isn’t as bad, statistically speaking as last spring, as Quebec’s health minister recently pointed out.

Right now seniors’ homes have a fraction of the 2,700 active cases that they were grappling with at the same point in the first wave. 

Health Minister Christian Dubé said last week that “we are doing a pretty good job.”

But Parkes said it’s nearly impossible to keep COVID-19 out of these facilities while it’s circulating in society at large.

The extra precautions being taken at the homes have another effect, too: one man whose wife is in a care home said the safety steps are making him feel more comfortable visiting than he might otherwise.

His wife is at the Marcelle Ferron home in Brossard—another very hard-hit facility, with 40 residents with COVID-19, and 11 who have died.

But the man is still visiting her there. They make visitors put on protective gowns, take off hats, put on a new mask and wash hands, he said.

“They’re being careful,” the man said.