The Saskatchewan government says its COVID-19 vaccination program will allow visitor restrictions to be eased at long-term and personal care homes in the province.
Restrictions will start easing on April 29, however, a number of conditions must be met first.
The province said the resident must be fully vaccinated, with at least 90 per cent of the residents in the facility fully vaccinated and three weeks must have elapsed since the last second dose was administered.
“Forty-three long-term care homes across the province already meet this criteria and many more will qualify in the coming days,” Seniors’ Minister Everett Hindley said on Thursday.
“Our goal is to vaccinate a significant portion of Saskatchewan’s population as quickly as possible, and while we still have a long ways to go, there is one segment of the population where we have achieved this goal, and that’s seniors living in our long-term care and personal care homes.”
Residents will be allowed an unlimited number of family members or support people to visit indoors, but only two at a time.
Up to four family members or support people will be allowed to visit outdoors.
Hindley admitted it’s been difficult for families due to the restrictions but said they were necessary to help protect the vulnerable from the virus.
“We know we need to continue to make sure that we’re protecting all of our residents and including those that are most vulnerable. But we’ve also been hearing … the restrictions that we put in place in terms of visitation in long-term care homes and personal care homes, they’ve not been easy. They’ve been exceptionally difficult,” he said.
“The public health orders and all the measures that still have to be followed in terms of mask wearing and temperature checks and screening and all that sort of stuff, that’s part of it as well.
“There is always a risk … for COVID-19 to get into a facility. There’s no 100 per cent guarantee but we’ve reached this time here where a vast majority of folks have had that vaccine.”
During the COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, advised people who plan to visit to get vaccinated when eligible and get tested as an added layer of protection.
“Those are all additional mechanisms we can do all the next little while. And certainly the hope is that as more and more of the people who visit regularly are vaccinated one dose, and then increasingly two doses further, the visitation guidelines will be further relaxed,” he said.
“But I think we’re starting it in a very careful way but it is all of our responsibility to get vaccinated, not just protect ourselves, but to protect our loved ones, our family and, at the end of the day, our community.
“We were looking for any opportunity that we could allow visitation in a safe manner and we certainly have looked at evidence from other parts of the world … and certainly the approach we have is a very safe approach, where once we have a high vaccination uptake in a long-term care facility, you can safely start visiting, as we have described.”
Fully vaccinated residents who go on outings will no longer be required to quarantine upon their return to a home, according to the province.
Long-term care homes will be notified by the Saskatchewan Health Authority as to when they are eligible to ease visitor restrictions.
Personal care homes are responsible for aligning themselves with the same operational policies as the SHA, and must be able to verify that they meet the requirements, government officials said.
—With files from Thomas Piller