The long, lonely wait for B.C. seniors in care facilities is due to end April 1, as public health officials allow regular opportunities for social visits to residents by family and friends.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the new COVID-19 rules Thursday, after nearly a year of visits being banned or restricted to a single essential visitor. The new rules allow up to two visitors, plus a child, with physical touch allowed using masks and hand hygiene to lower the risk of infection. Visits must be booked in advance with the long-term care or assisted living facility.
The changes also remove physical distance requirements between residents, allowing for communal dining and small group social or recreational activities in senior homes. Staff no longer will have to monitor visits, which will be a minimum of one hour to help staff control access.
Visitors may also be eligible for vaccination, which has already been offered to all residents and staff in long-term care, assisted living and independent living facilities. Visitors can only see one resident, and visitors are not permitted to take part in group activities of residents.
Terry Lake, the former B.C. health minister and now CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, asked families to be patient, because care facilities need the next few days to prepare for the return of visitors. Lake also called on the province to make vaccination mandatory for care home staff, or have regular testing to see if they are infected.
Henry said the expansion of visits is likely to mean more infection outbreaks in care homes, but with vaccine protection and other precautions, that risk is outweighed by the effect of continued isolation of elderly people.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said there are currently only three active outbreaks in senior care homes, down from 29 in January. “That tells us what immunization can do,” he said.