New restrictions are now in effect for all long-term care and retirement homes in Ontario, prohibiting unvaccinated visitors from visiting loved ones inside the facilities.
The temporary measures took effect Dec. 17, as the province improves COVID-19 protocols to prevent the Omicron variant from triggering another wave of outbreaks in an already fragile sector.
The Ministry of Long-Term Care covers the sector with new rules this week that would impact visitors and staff, regardless of their vaccination status, limiting who can enter a nursing home before the holidays, and it rubs Tammy Jakobszen the wrong way.
“I don’t agree with that because I don’t see how you can separate loved ones. I mean, it’s been pretty hard, we’ve spent so much time apart,” Jakobszen says.
The Tecumseh resident is caring for her 88-year-old mother, Margery Tofflemire, who lives in Heron Terrace in Windsor.
Jakobszen is fully vaccinated and has to undergo three weekly tests to be able to visit, but she doesn’t understand why unvaccinated people still can’t do the same.
“People should have a choice whether they want to be vaccinated or not, but as long as you can prove a negative test then you don’t have the virus, so what’s stopping you from seeing your family?” she asks. “I do not understand that.”
Unvaccinated visitors are only permitted to visit residents outside if they are wearing a mask and following social distancing guidelines. Visiting rules also apply to unvaccinated children.
The Ministry of Long-Term Care is giving visitors and caregivers until December 20 to receive their first dose, and until February 21 to be fully immunized in order to continue visiting.
Jakobszen thinks this is another restriction in a bid to get people vaccinated – but says it goes too far.
“It’s their house. They pay all that money to be there, they should have the choice to see their family,” says Jakobszen.
The CEO of Heron Terrace’s parent company said the timing of these measures around the holidays is disheartening for residents, families and staff.
“The disruption to visits and outings is understandably disappointing and frustrating. Yet, we have much to be grateful for and remain hopeful that these measures… will keep them all safe,” Steeves & Rozema Group CEO K. John Scotland said in a statement to CTV News.
According to the province, of the 45,000 caregivers, many of whom are in long-term care homes daily, 95% have been fully vaccinated, leaving 2,000 who have yet to be vaccinated.
Life inside homes is also changing.
The ministry encourages small-group activities and will apply the cohort for high-risk activities and meals.
Residents will also be allowed a maximum of two visitors or carers indoors at a time and will no longer be allowed to leave the house for nighttime visits for social reasons.
Daytime offsite visits will still only be permitted for fully immunized residents, but unlike earlier stages of the pandemic, residents will not be restricted to their rooms.
Jakobszen says the restrictions are impacting his mother and his friends inside the house.
“Their mental health suffers, not seeing their family members,” says Jakobszen. “How much time do these people have left?” »
– With files by Colin D’Mello of CTV Toronto