British Columbia is stepping up procedures to help protect vulnerable seniors amid the growing novel coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that access to long-term care homes and assisted living facilities would be restricted to essential visits only.
“Essential visits include compassionate visits for end-of-life care and visits that support care plans for residents based on resident and family needs, for example, families who routinely visit to provide assistance with feeding or mobility,” Dix said.
Last week, visits to such facilities were reduced to one-on-one encounters.
Daniel Fontaine, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, said he was pleased with the new restrictions, which he said facilities had already been asking of visitors on a voluntary basis.
He said decisions on who will be allowed in to see a loved one will now be in the hands of individual care facilities.
“It will over the coming, hopefully, hours and days relieve a lot of pressure,” he said.
“It is a very challenging situation to have people coming in and out of a care setting, especially when there is a lot of anxiety and heightened awareness of this particular virus.”
Seniors are among the most susceptible to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
All of Canada’s four COVID-19 deaths to date have been linked to an outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, where more than a dozen cases have been reported.
West Vancouver has also seen an outbreak at the Hollyburn House assisted living facility.
Henry said the new restrictions will be hard on people living in long-term care facilities.
“That will mean that we have to run the risk that seniors will become less connected to others in the community,” said Henry.
“I’m asking people to step up and help us communicate with our seniors whether they’re at home, in their own home, or whether they’re residents of long-term care homes or assisted-living facilities.”
On Friday, B.C. Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie called on the public to step in and support the province’s elders, including those who live in the community.
“It could be anything from helping a senior get some groceries, taking out their garbage, bringing over a cooked meal or bringing them up to speed on the latest COVID-19 recommendations from our provincial health officer,” Mackenzie said.
“These are things we can all do to help, and they are important measures to keep seniors who are living in the community healthy and to reduce anxiety both for seniors and for their family members.”
Some B.C. grocery stores have also implemented special early-morning shopping hours to allow seniors to buy food while the stores are freshly cleaned, and help keep them separated from other people.
Loblaw Canada said many of its 2,500 stores would begin to offer special shopping time for seniors, persons with disabilities or other extra care needs this week.
“Given the variety of our stores and operations, we are encouraging customers to check with local stores to confirm whether they are existing or adjusted hours,” said the company in an email.
“Additionally, some operations may be altered on the advice of governments.”
Loblaw operates the Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills and Shoppers Drug Mart.
Shoppers Drug Mart is also dedicating the first shopping hour of business to seniors and others who need extra help.
Loblaw City Market in West Vancouver said it was opening from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. for seniors only.
Fresh Street Market also said it would hold special shopping hours from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Wednesday and Friday for seniors and vulnerable people.
Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford has implemented a similar policy Tuesday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Kyle’s No Frills in Kitimat held a seniors-only shopping session on Monday morning.
As of Monday, B.C. has recorded 103 cases of COVID-19.
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