Ontario Tightens Rules in Long-Term Care Homes

Ontario is tightening rules at long-term care and retirement homes and boosting its capacity to vaccinate people against COVID-19, as the province faces a potential surge in cases caused by the omicron variant.

And while the province’s top doctor didn’t announce any additional public health measures affecting the broader public at a news conference Tuesday, he did say he will recommend provincewide measures to the Ford government in the coming days.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the current regional approach to public health restrictions was designed to combat the delta variant but that the “game is changing” as omicron rapidly becomes the dominant strain in the province.

Moore said each omicron case is infecting four to eight times more people than the delta variant, although it’s still unclear whether or not it causes more severe illness.

“We’ve been meeting with our public health colleagues, our public health measures table, and are bringing recommendations to government to have a more consistent approach across all of Ontario heading into omicron,” said Moore.

He said an announcement will come later this week, with health officials reviewing restrictions, such as maximum group sizes for gatherings.

“Even if it is less severe, with so many people infected, there may be significant demands on the health-care system,” Moore said. “Although our vaccines appear to be less effective against transmission of omicron, evidence is showing us that they still likely provide strong protection against severe illness, especially with a booster dose.”

Moore encouraged anyone who is eligible for a third dose or booster shot to get one and said hospitals, public health units and pharmacies are all ramping up their ability to vaccinate.

New long-term care measures

Moore’s comments followed a news release from the Ministry of Long-Term Care announcing enhanced COVID-19 testing and vaccination measures for residents, staff and visitors of long-term care and retirement homes.

Starting today, all general visitors will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter a long-term care home.

“Our priority is to protect long-term care residents from COVID-19,” said Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips said in the release. “These further measures build on the ones already taken, including mandatory vaccinations, priority for third doses, and randomized testing, [which] will provide the best level of protection possible.”

As of Dec. 17, all staff, caregivers, volunteers and students working in long-term care facilities will be tested twice weekly, regardless of vaccination status. Support workers and visitors who provide essential services to residents will need to test negative for COVID-19 in order to enter.

Caregivers will be required to be vaccinated to enter a home, with the exception of those seeing a dying resident or those who have a medically valid exemption. Caregivers who are unvaccinated will need to get the first dose by Dec. 20, the Ministry of Long-Term Care says, and a second by Feb. 21, 2022.

In the meantime, caregivers who aren’t fully vaccinated are restricted to the room of the resident they are going to see.

Furthermore, indoor visits will be limited to two guests or caregivers. Outdoor visits can involve up to four guests or caregivers at a time.

Cohorts will be implemented for dining and higher-risk activities such as singing and dancing, according to the ministry.

Only residents who have had two shots of vaccine will be permitted to take day absences for social purposes, while overnight absences for social purposes will be prohibited, the ministry said. Anyone who does leave the premises for a visit must be actively screened upon returning.

Retirement home measures

The new measures for retirement homes will take effect on Dec. 22.

Starting that day, staff, volunteers, contractors and essential caregivers will need to take rapid tests twice weekly. General visitors and support workers will also need to take rapid tests before they enter a home.

The ministry is strongly encouraging retirement homes to restrict visitors to only those who are fully vaccinated, and develop “additional requirements” for unvaccinated and not fully vaccinated visitors.

Homes are also being encouraged to limit visitors and group sizes for all social activities and events, as well as test people when they return from overnight trips outside the homes. 

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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