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Ontario to ease COVID-19 restrictions for visitors in long-term care homes

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TORONTO — Ontario long-term care residents can start taking social trips and see more caregivers as of next week following more than a month of strict rules aimed at controlling the spread of the Omicron variant.

The province will begin easing visitor restrictions in the homes on Monday — a week after public health rules started to roll back across the rest of the province.

“With public health and health care indicators now improving, we are cautiously lifting these measures so our residents can spend time with more friends and family that play such an important role in their health and wellbeing,” Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said in a written statement on Friday.

Read more: Ontario long-term care visitor restrictions under review, new minister says

The restrictions, including a pause on access to long-term care facilities for general visitors, took effect in late December as a response to a COVID-19 surge caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

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As of Monday, the number of designated caregivers per resident will increase from two to four, though only two can visit at a time.

Residents who have had at least three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be allowed to resume social day trips.

General visits from individuals five years and older who have had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be allowed to resume on Feb. 21.

From that day onwards, residents will be allowed to have three visitors at a time, and all residents can go on social day trips regardless of their vaccination status.

On the same day, residents who have had at least three vaccine doses can go on overnight absences and day programs, while entertainer visits and personal care services at homes can resume. Social activities in the homes will be limited to 10 people.

Read more: 2,634 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID, 517 in intensive care

On March 14, kids under five can visit again, residents can have four visitors at a time, and all residents regardless of vaccination status can go on overnight absences.

The announcement comes after the province started lifting public health rules on businesses and general social gatherings on Monday. Those rules took effect after the restrictions in long-term care home were imposed, and were in place for a shorter period of time.

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Calandra commented earlier this week on a “positive” trend in staff COVID-19 cases after weeks of record-high infection levels among long-term care workers. The wave of Omicron cases has strained the sector’s workforce and led to spiking outbreaks, cases and deaths.

The province recently pushed back a deadline for workers to get mandatory third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, from the end of January to mid-March, because of disruption from Omicron outbreaks.

As of Thursday, the province says 84 per cent of eligible long-term care workers had received third COVID-19 shots and 91 per cent of eligible residents had third jabs. Fourth doses are also being offered to residents.

Outbreak numbers in the sector have begun to drop but still remain high. As of Friday, 50 per cent of long-term care homes in Ontario were reporting outbreaks and 14 more resident deaths were reported from the virus.

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Overall, Ontario reported 58 more COVID-19 deaths on Friday.

There were 2,634 people hospitalized with virus and 517 people in intensive care, down from 2,797 hospitalized and 541 in ICU with COVID-19 on Thursday.

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