KITCHENER -- "Here comes the sun." "Love." "Shine."

These are some of the signs and stickers decorating the windows at Sunnyside Home in Kitchener with messages of hope. They’re small and simple attempts to lift spirits when so much of the care home’s rays of light have been eclipsed by COVID-19.

“It’s been a roller coaster, for sure,” said Connie Lacy, director of Sunnyside Seniors’ Services. “I think every day we learn new lessons. Every day we get new information. We’ve had to really, really quickly adapt.”

Sunnyside Home is one of 38 long-term care or retirement homes in Waterloo Region where a COVID-19 outbreak has been declared so far. It’s also been the site of three separate outbreaks.

On March 31, public health said four Sunnyside staff members had tested positive for the virus. A second outbreak declared on May 16 involved one staff member and a third outbreak on June 18 involved one resident and four staff. The latest outbreak was declared over on July 6.

“Most of our outbreaks have been related to staff who contracted COVID in the community,” said Lacy. “So doing contact tracing and making sure we are keeping out of Sunnyside is critical.”

Sunnyside Home has an on-site infection control specialist -- a full-time nurse responsible for connecting with public health on a daily basis.

Laura Morelli is one of the public health nurses who’s been working closely with long-term care and retirement homes to help prevent and manage COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We’re not really visible [but] we do provide a great deal of expertise around infection control,” said Morelli. “That’s something we believe the community values and offers a real benefit in times like this, when we’re dealing with a virus that is new to everybody.”

She said it was tough, especially in the early days of the pandemic.

“Some of the biggest challenges we faced working with long term care homes during the pandemic has been to manage all of the new information we received,” Morelli explained. “Every day we learned something new about the virus and ways to manage it.”

Managing and stopping the spread of the virus at Sunnyside has involved several different safety measures.

“When we felt that there were residents at higher risk or we were waiting for test results, we were able to move them into that area,” said Lacy. “In the periods when we were out of outbreak, we were able to move new admissions into a separate area so that they could be safe until the 14 days pass and they could be moved into their regular part of the home.”

Public health has assisted the home when it comes to guidance and contact tracing, Lacy said. The facility has also placed markers on the floor and set up dining areas differently to physically distance residents. An indoor area usually reserved for large meetings, pub nights or singing events is now ready to be used as a field hospital with isolation rooms.

“We’ve been really lucky we haven’t had to use that for isolating residents,” said Lacy. “But we’ve been able to use it to facilitate our testing. So, we now do our COVID testing in there and it’s ready to go in case we’d ever need it again.”

Long-term care homes across the province where there are no active outbreaks are now accommodating outdoor and indoor visits with residents. As measures are slowly lifted, Lacy says the fight against the spread of the virus continues, and Sunnyside isn’t alone.

“I hope the public will realize we are doing important work and look at providing additional resources so we can do that work even better,” said Lacy.