Ontario Halts Visits, Social Travel For Long-Term Care Residents Amid Omicron Spread

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TORONTO – Long-term care homes across Ontario will halt general visits as COVID-19 outbreaks increase, fueled by the highly transmissible variant Omicron.

TORONTO – Long-term care homes across Ontario will halt general visits as COVID-19 outbreaks increase, fueled by the highly transmissible variant Omicron.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said the policy would come into effect Thursday to reduce the risk of exposing vulnerable residents to the virus as it travels through the community.

“I understand that these measures will impact many families, but we have to remain vigilant, especially against the new Omicron variant,” Phillips said at a press conference on Tuesday.

From Thursday, only two designated caregivers per resident will be allowed to visit.

All other general visits will be suspended indefinitely and residents will not be allowed to leave for social reasons. Absences for essential reasons such as medical appointments may continue and people may still enter homes for palliative visits.

Philips said 41 long-term care homes were experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19 on Tuesday – up from 37 the day before, with 93 residents and 161 workers testing positive for the virus.

The factors behind the outbreaks are being investigated by local public health units, he said. But he noted that many had been linked with the spread in the community.

Omicron became the dominant variant in Ontario within a month of its first detection. Infections and hospitalizations have increased since then and several public health units have reported strain on their contact tracing and testing resources amid increases in cases fueled by Omicron.

Ontario has reported 8,825 new cases of COVID-19.

Health experts note that the actual number of cases may be much higher than reported due to vacations and hospitals and centers reaching testing limits.

Provincial health worker Dr Kieran Moore is reviewing isolation guidelines for people infected with COVID-19 following changes in the United States to deal with the high volume of infections at Omicron.

Moore was scheduled to hold a press conference on changes to testing and contact tracing guidelines, but was postponed until later in the week.

A spokeswoman for the health minister said Moore was considering Ontario-specific evidence on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s shortened isolation and quarantine period guidelines.

On Monday, U.S. health officials reduced the recommended isolation period for Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 days to five days, and shortened the time it takes to quarantine close contacts.

The center said its guidelines followed evidence that people infected with COVID-19 are most contagious in the two days before and three days after symptoms appear.

Phillips said such policy changes affecting long-term care should take into account the “very, very vulnerable group of individuals” living in homes.

Staff absences from the virus-related isolation requirements are “a matter of concern”, although the outbreaks have been able to cope so far, he added.

“Like all other employers… homes are finding that the prevalence of Omicron means that some staff are not available,” he said.

The province has already reduced isolation requirements for long-term care and hospital workers who come in contact with COVID-19 to preserve the workforce during the Omicron wave.

Workers exposed to someone infected with the virus can now return to work immediately after receiving a negative PCR result, as long as they remain asymptomatic. They must also take a daily rapid antigen test for the virus for the next 10 days, and a second PCR test seven days after being exposed.

A December 23 memo from Ministry of Long-Term Care officials said the policy can only be applied by homes “in critical situations of staff shortages.”

A vaccination mandate for long-term care staff also went into effect on December 13.

Phillips said last week 84% of eligible residents and 43% of eligible workers received booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with efforts underway to stimulate more people.

The province stepped up its third-dose vaccination campaign this month, offering third injections to all eligible adults.

Premier Doug Ford visited a workplace vaccination clinic in Mississauga, Ont., Where he thanked workers, volunteers and Ontarians for helping to speed up the vaccination campaign.

An announcement would come “in the next few days” as to whether schools would reopen for in-person learning next week amid high levels of the virus spreading in the community, he said.

“We just want to see how things go and obviously talk to the chief medical officer.”

– With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 28, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press


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