The Ontario government says it will begin to allow for general visitors at long-term care homes in the province effective Saturday.
The news comes in response to the province announcing its phased reopening plan on Thursday, a memo from the Ministry of Long-Term Care on Friday read.
“As you will have heard, yesterday the government released its Roadmap to Reopen, a three-step plan to safely and cautiously reopen the province and gradually lift public health measures,” the memo began.
It goes on to say that effective Saturday, general visitors can come to long-term care homes to see their loved ones for an outdoor visit.
Ontario families, advocates and experts have been calling on the Ford government to ease restrictions on long-term care homes in order for residents to see their loved ones. All residents in long-term care homes and retirement homes have been offered and received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Many of an estimated 150,000 nursing home residents have been confined to their rooms or floors for as long as 15 months now, cut off from most relatives as well as the outdoors. Activists blame extreme staffing shortages and operators who prioritize corporate needs ahead of the welfare of residents.
Advocates also say the restrictions make no sense. Scientific evidence, they note, indicates COVID-19 is far less likely to spread outdoors than indoors.
They also point to evidence that extreme isolation is physically and mentally damaging, especially to residents of nursing homes, many of whom suffer cognitive difficulties and need familiar faces and touch.
Residents of the homes have also been asking to be released from what some called “confinement.”
In late March, Chuck Ferkranus, who resides in a Newmarket home, said no one in the building has COVID-19 but residents still remain stuck in their rooms.
“We did nothing wrong; we’re not guilty of any crime,” he said. “If vaccinations don’t end the rules, if no one having COVID doesn’t end the restrictions, then what does it take before this comes to an end?”
“For our part, we are actively working with our colleagues at the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health to update Directive #3, as well the ministry’s visitor policy and guidance document which will set out the following:”
A maximum of two general visitors, as well as essential caregiver(s) will be allowed to visit a resident at a time
Children under the age of two do not count towards the visitor limit
Visitors need to be screened upon arrival and should not enter the home
However, they do not need to do a rapid test as the visit will be outdoors
Proper distancing and masking must be adhered to
Some homes may not have adequate outdoor space and therefore visits can “also take place in the general vicinity of the home.”