No vaccination, no visit.

Ontario’s long-term care minister, Rod Phillips, is tightening the rules in nursing homes, with an increase in testing for COVID-19 and some new restrictions including a ban on residents from going out for nightly visits, which could affect the plans of the holiday season for some.

“The reality is that there are some communities where vaccination levels are lower and with the uncertainty of the Omicron variant you just have to be careful,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

As the Star previously reported, only those who are fully vaccinated can visit loved ones, with exceptions for palliative care and those with legitimate medical exemptions. They will be restricted to the resident’s room.

This means that children and adolescents who have not received two doses cannot go to see grandmother or grandfather, but outdoor visits are still an option for the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, as long as they wear masks and are physically far away. Infants under one year of age are exempt from the indoor restriction.

Visitors are limited to two indoors and four outdoors, where some nursing homes provide heaters for the winter months.

Family members and friends who serve as designated caregivers for a resident must receive their first dose of vaccine by Saturday and be fully vaccinated by February 21. But until they are fully vaccinated, they are restricted to the resident’s room.

“Our priority is to protect long-term care residents from COVID-19,” Phillips said. “In the face of rising infection rates and the emerging threat from Omicron, we are immediately implementing further measures to protect our most vulnerable based on the best scientific and medical advice.”

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Work on the measures began last week with Medical Director Dr. Kieran Moore and his team. Moore hinted at a news conference Friday that new restrictions were coming.

Surveillance tests for the virus are increasing as of Friday.

All staff, students in locations, volunteers and designated caregivers will be screened for COVID-19 twice weekly, replacing the current regimen of approximately 105,000 weekly random tests. Babies under one year of age are exempt.

The measures follow Monday’s deadline for all long-term care staff to be fully vaccinated and amid concerns that case levels could rise in nursing homes. The highly contagious Omicron variant is causing infections to double every three days across the province.

For now, with boosters already delivered to most nursing home residents, infection levels remain low with three new cases reported Tuesday, two in residents and one in a staff member across the system of 626 homes. . Eleven households have outbreaks, an increase of two, but three of those households have no resident cases.

Long-term care was hit hard in the first and second waves of the pandemic, with nearly 4,000 deaths, including 13 staff members. The death toll prompted an investigation by Ontario’s ombudsman, patient advocate, auditor general, and a commission of inquiry that found the system was unprepared for a rapidly spreading virus that found a ready breeding ground. in the close confines of nursing homes.

At the peak of the crisis in the spring of 2020, military medical teams were called in to assist in a handful of homes where staffing levels fell as much as 20 percent due to absenteeism and illness, resulting in dire conditions, like the residents spending hours or days in dirty, malnourished, dehydrated and neglected diapers.

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Nursing homes are encouraged to limit large group activities for now.


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