The Ontario government has released an enhanced list of COVID-19 measures for the province’s long-term care homes that include no overnight absences and all fully immunized visitors are required to test negative upon entry.
Previously, all fully vaccinated individuals were exempted from regular testing, however, beginning Dec. 17 all fully vaccinated staff, students, volunteers and caregivers will be tested two times a week.
For those looking to see a loved one in an Ontario long-term care home, visitors and support workers will be required to test negative upon entry unless they have a negative test from the previous day.
General visitors who are not fully vaccinated will not be allowed inside long-term care homes — with exceptions for residents in palliative care and visitors with medical exemptions.
Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said the indefinite measures are a response to rising community COVID-19 infections and the “emerging threat” of the Omicron variant, believed to be highly infectious and on track to become dominant in Ontario soon.
“We need to immediately implement some measures to make sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable,” Phillips said in an interview Tuesday. He said the restrictions will eventually be lifted, but they will remain as long as deemed necessary to protect people.
“We don’t like to put further restrictions in place but they’re necessary right now.”
In terms of the number of visitors, the province previously left it up to individual homes but said for indoor visits there can only be two visitors, out for outdoor visits up to four visitors — per resident.
Day visits for social purposes were permitted for all residents but are now only for fully vaccinated residents who will be actively screened upon return.
Meanwhile, overnight absences for social purposes are no longer permitted for any residents regardless of vaccination status.
There will also be enhanced symptom screening for all admissions and transfers from another health-care facility. Homes will also be directed to ensure audits are happening every two weeks or weekly amid an active outbreak.
A spokeswoman for Phillips said 99 per cent of staff, students and volunteers in long-term care were fully vaccinated as of Nov. 30, the latest data available. All homes that had reported data said at least 90 per cent of workers were fully vaccinated.
Ontario long-term care homes were hit hard by outbreaks, infections and deaths during the pandemic. More than 4,000 residents have died from the disease — more than a third of the province’s total recorded deaths — and more than 15,600 have been infected.
The move comes as the province has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases since the new variant, Omicron, was detected in late November.
— With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter from The Canadian Press