Restrictions on visiting seniors in long-term care homes and assisted living will be lifted as of July 19, though staff and visitors who have not been vaccinated will still need to wear masks and follow other public health guidelines.
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Bonnie Henry Thursday announced a series of restrictions that will come off on July 19.
Seniors homes were among the first to have strict prohibitions imposed at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, since that’s where COVID-19 infection outbreaks were most concentrated and most deadly.
Early in the pandemic, people were not allowed to visit loved ones in care homes. Those restrictions were loosened a bit in June 2020, but many restrictions remained in place. There were, for example, limits on the number of visitors that a resident could have and visits had to be scheduled.
With 78% of British Columbians now vaccinated and 40% fully vaccinated, restrictions can now be relaxed, Dix said. He pointed out that there are currently no outbreaks in any long term care homes in B.C.
"This is an important day," Dix said. "It reflects the progress we're making."
"Today, being the first day in a long time where we have not had any long-term care outbreaks, is a reflection of how well the vaccine is working," Henry said.
As of July 19, visitors will no longer have to schedule visits or book in advance, and limits on the number of visitors a resident can have will be removed. Visitors will no longer need to wear masks, as long as they are fully vaccinated. Seniors day programs will also resume.
Dix said that staff and residents at long-term care facilities are "overwhelmingly" vaccinated.Those few workers who are not fully vaccinated will be required to continue wearing masks and will need to be tested three times a week for COVID-19.
"Long term care and assited living workers will be required to report vaccination status to their employers," Dix said.
Visitors who are not vaccinated will also be required to continue to wear masks when visiting loved ones. Vaccinated visitors will only need to wear masks when travelling through common areas.
Care homes will continue to keep a list of visitors for contact tracing purposes. Should there be an outbreak at a long-term care home, some of the restrictions that will be lifted July 19 would be reimposed, Henry said.
A freeze that prevented long-term care home staff from working at more than one facility will be lifted in some cases to allow for workers to take vacations, and allow workers at other facilities to fill in for them.
That "single-site" order was imposed because staff who worked part-time at more than one care home increased the risk of spreading infections from one care home to another.
"We are going to be modifying the single-site order to allow for some limited movement of staff to be in a casual pool essentially to be able to provide respite for workers as they go off on vacation," Henry said. "Only fully vaccinated health care workers will be able to do that."
Henry said all care homes and assisted living facility operators will be required to keep a list of names and public health numbers of all staff, volunteers and residents and provide those lists to the public health office.
"That way we can verify the immunization status of everyone in those facilities," Henry said.