Province further easing visitation restrictions at long-term care homes

TORONTO – The Ontario government is again easing restrictions for visiting loved ones at long term care homes.

Effective June 9, day and overnight outings will be permitted for fully vaccinated residents — even “close physical contact” can resume between those residents and their fully vaccinated visitors (14 days must have passed since receiving the final dose of COVID-19 vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated).

For everyone else, the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams has signed off on allowing brief hugs, regardless of vaccination status.

Residents who can’t make it outdoors will be able to have someone visit them inside the home, along with an essential caregiver.

Everyone still needs to be masked and physical distancing also needs to be respected, with the exception of fully vaccinated residents and visitors who are able to be closer.

The move comes after the province began easing restrictions on May 22, allowing for outdoor visits, following a months-long stretch when residents were unable to receive visitors.

“With the excellent uptake of vaccines in long-term care homes, it is the right time to make this very meaningful change that will benefit residents and their families,”  states long term care minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton in a June 3 press release.

As of May 30, the province estimates 97 per cent of long-term care residents across the province are fully vaccinated, with at least 89% of staff partially vaccinated, and 66% fully vaccinated.

Long-term care homes will be responsible for implementing their own visitation policy in line with provincial requirements outlined in “Directive #3” including maintaining visitor logs for at least 30 days to assist with contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 exposure.

At Wellington County’s municipal long-term care home, Wellington Terrace, visits will be scheduled ahead and visitors subjected to a rapid antigen test, according to assistant administer Peg Muhlbaue.

Residents returning after overnight stays will be swabbed for COVID-19 upon return and remain in isolation until a negative test result is received, Muhlbaue said.

Out of 170 Wellington Terrace residents around 161 are fully vaccinated, with 179 of 315 staff members also being fully vaccinated.

Muhlbaue also mentioned physical distancing could be suspended “once 85% of residents and 70% of staff are fully immunized.”

Stuart Oakley marketing and communications manager for Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Homes said the company’s homes in Fergus, Arthur and Harriston have a process to follow where family members can schedule visits.

As for June 9, he said they expect to see an uptick in people requesting to meet with their loved ones.

“People are anxious, they want to see their loved ones, understandably so,” he said.

According to Oakley, as of May 30, at Caressant Care’s Fergus location, 93% of residents were fully vaccinated; 89% at the Harriston location; and 90% at the Arthur location.

At Eden House in Guelph, where all but two of the home’s 54 long-term care residents are fully vaccinated, administrative advisor Michael Bausch said there was “quite an uptick” in requests for outdoor visitations with residents but doesn’t anticipate much of a change with the recently eased restrictions.

“Residents have always been able to go out for medical appointments … the precautions really haven’t changed. It’s the length of time and eligibility that’s changed slightly,” he said.