The steep reduction in the number of outbreaks at B.C. seniors' homes, and the fact that much more than 90% of residents at those homes have been vaccinated for COVID-19 has prompted provincial health officer Bonnie Henry to relax restrictions on visits and allow designated visitors to take residents for unsupervised outings from their homes starting April 1.
Visitors will not be required to be vaccinated because "it is not feasible to have every visitor immunized," she said.
The rule changes also enable visitors to join their loved one in that resident's room, said Henry. Provisions will also be in place to allow visits with residents who are in multi-bed rooms.
"As of April 1, all residents [in long-term care or assisted living] will have regular, frequent, and routine opportunities for social visitation," Henry told media. "We know that this must allow for a minimum of an hour."
Glacier Media has received correspondence showing that at least one seniors' home had alerted residents' designated visitors to give them the heads-up of this pending change. That home specified procedures that included bringing residents back within two hours, and coming back at a specified time, so staff could receive the resident. The staff then would change the resident's clothes and wash them, among other measures to ensure that no potential traces of COVID-19 could get into the home.
Residents no longer have to self-isolate when they return to the home.
Henry said another change to visits at seniors' homes is that the residents will be allowed to have "additional friends and family," to what had been one designated visitor.
Some homes had been allowing multiple visitors at one time in contravention of provincial guidelines, and Henry said she was concerned about what had been an inconsistent adherence to the previous rules.
"We will be limiting the number of people, at any one time, to two visitors, plus a child, to allow for visits to grandparents and great grandparents," she said.
One thing that has not changed is that visitors will be expected on upcoming visits to wear masks and protective equipment.
"There'll be other restrictions, like only visiting your one friend or loved one, and not visiting multiple people," Henry said. "I think that's a really important one, and making sure that visitors aren't participating in group activities where their risk can spread to others."
Another change for residents in seniors' homes is that they will no longer be required to socially distance from each other, Henry said. This will allow for things such as communal dining and group activities.
The province has been stepping up its vaccination campaign, and has expanded that to seniors in the general population. Henry said there will be particular attention paid to vaccinating those who are moving into seniors' homes.
Henry acknowledged that while the previous rules were aimed at protecting the homes' residents from potential COVID-19 infections, the lack of social interaction caused a hit to residents' overall well being.
"We're at a point where the benefits of having those social connections, and interactions, outweigh the risks, and we know that we can manage those risks, with the vast majority of residents, and staff, now being protected with vaccinations."