N.S. to allow visitors at nursing homes as COVID-19 cases in long-term care hit zero
Outdoor visits can start June 15, but with certain restrictions
People with loved ones at Nova Scotia's long-term care homes will be allowed to visit again starting on Monday, June 15.
On Wednesday, the province announced there were no longer any active cases of COVID-19 at any of Nova Scotia's long-term care homes. But there are restrictions: visits must be held outdoors and people must keep two metres apart.
"I know this is not exactly what you were hoping for and we know you're craving that long-awaited hug [but] we're not there yet," Premier Stephen McNeil said at a press briefing.
"But sitting in the fresh air in a visit with your loved one is a good first step."
Even though visits can resume June 15, not all facilities may be ready to accept visitors by that time and it will be up to each to determine when visits can resume.
5 active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia
According to the province's data website, there are just five known active cases remaining in Nova Scotia. The province also reported no new cases or deaths on Wednesday.
The long-term care announcement was good news for Beverley Devlin, whose 89-year-old mother, Mary Betty Hunt, is a resident at the Northwood facility in Halifax, which has been the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nova Scotia.
Devlin last saw her mother on March 14, the day before Northwood started shutting down to visitors. Before then, she'd been visiting her mother six days a week.
Devlin said the past three months have been stressful, not only because she was worried about her mother contracting the virus — which she didn't — but also because she was worried about the isolation. At one point, Devlin said Northwood staff called to say her mother had stopped eating and drinking because she missed her family.
"I'm very happy," Devlin said after learning about the change in public health guidelines. "It'll be better for her health."
Bill Mont, a Northwood resident for close to 10 years, said he's looking forward to having visitors again.
"It's going to be a pretty good thing, really, to get back to normal of some sort. I don't know how normal it's going to be. But certainly it'll be good to be able to see friends, family and staff — the whole works," Mont said.
Mont said he had not yet heard Northwood's specific plan when it comes to allowing visitors.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said visits can only happen in designated areas determined by the long-term care home. He said only two people can visit a resident at one time.
Visitors will be asked if they have any of the symptoms for COVID-19. Anybody who says yes will be asked to not visit until they've "gone through appropriate further screening and testing if necessary."
Visitors will be asked to wear a non-medical mask. The date, time and contact of the visitors will also be tracked to help public health if the cases appear again.
The province has started tracking the remaining active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia. A news release said data on the website has now been reconciled so all information comes from a single source.
The update has changed some some data points. For example, the total number of cases increased by one to reflect a Nova Scotian who tested positive for COVID-19 but is not currently in the province and was not tested here.
The category formerly known as "recovered" has been renamed "resolved" to "more accurately account for all COVID-19 cases whose investigations are considered completed and closed by public health," the news release said.
Finally, the total number of cases by location is now based on the Nova Scotia Health Authority zone of the infected person's individual residence, not where their sample was taken for testing.
"We have resolved all the discrepancies that people have been pointing out in the last number of days," said Strang.
To date, 994 cases of COVID-19 are considered resolved. There are also only two patients left in hospital, both in the intensive care unit.
The QEII Health Sciences Centre's microbiology lab completed 691 Nova Scotia tests on Tuesday. There have been 1,061 positive tests and 46,668 negative tests so far.
Strang announced he'll soon be working from home because he needs to travel to New Brunswick on Thursday to have a minor surgical procedure related to skin cancer.
"I have a minor type of skin cancer which is diagnosed and only spreads locally," Strang said. "It's been removed, but I need another type of surgery that just can re-look at things."
Because he's travelling to New Brunswick, Strang said he would be self-isolating for 14 days when he gets back to Nova Scotia.
"I'm no different than anybody else," he said.
Strang said he'll continue working from home. McNeil commended Strang as an example of "practising what you preach."
He said they've decided to take a break from broadcasting COVID-19 briefings. McNeil did not specify when the briefings will resume.
People with one or more of the following COVID-19 symptoms are asked to visit 811's website:
- Fever (chills, sweats).
- Cough or worsening of a previous cough.
- Sore throat.
- Shortness of breath.
- Muscle aches.
- Nasal congestion/runny nose.
- Hoarse voice.
- Unusual fatigue.
- Loss of sense of smell or taste.
- Red, purple or bluish lesions on the feet, toes or fingers that do not have a clear cause.
With files from Taryn Grant