Hospitals tighten visitor policies due to community spread amid Omicron wave

Several hospitals in Ontario are updating their visitor policies amid a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the fast spreading Omicron variant.

Unity Health Toronto, University Health Network and Sunnybrook hospital limiting visitations

Ontario hospitals are changing visitor policies to make them more restrictive as the Omicron COVID-19 variant spreads rapidly across the province. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Several hospitals in Ontario have introduced stricter visitor policies amid a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the fast spreading Omicron variant.

Unity Health Toronto and the University Health Network— two major hospital networks in the province's most populous city — said inpatients with stays shorter than seven days would not be allowed visitors.

"We will be reducing the presence of visitors/Essential Care Partners due to the increasing community spread of COVID-19," Unity Health wrote in a statement, noting the updated policy was in effect Tuesday.

The hospital network, which consists of St. Joseph's Health Centre, St. Michael's Hospital and Providence Healthcare, said inpatients who are expected to have a hospital stay of longer than seven days can identify two designated visitors, with one allowed to visit within a 24-hour period provided they show proof of vaccination and ID.

Inpatient visits being reduced

Inpatient visits will be a maximum length of three hours, while patients attending outpatient clinic appointments and day surgery or in the emergency department will generally not be allowed visitors, it said.

Similar changes to the visitor policy at the University Health Network took effect Tuesday.

No visitors will be allowed for patients in hospital for less than seven days and one pre-approved essential care provider will be allowed to visit outpatients "if essential to supporting safety while in hospital," it said. Essential care providers will be allowed to visit patients who self-identify as Indigenous, it added.

The Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto also updated its visitor policy, with inpatients allowed only one fully vaccinated designated visitor each day during regular visiting hours. It said only outpatients with "significant need" will be permitted one pre-approved companion.

The hospital noted some exceptions apply, such as for patients at the end of their lives, those under 18 years of age, pregnant patients in labour and Indigenous patients.

Visiting rules previously tightened at long-term care homes

In Dryden, Ont., the Dryden Regional Health Centre said each patient will only be permitted one designated essential visitor, who is identified by the patient and is "paramount to the fundamental care and/or mental health of the patient." The health centre said all visitors must be fully vaccinated and provide proof of a negative antigen test taken within the last 48 hours.

Last week, Ontario introduced enhanced province-wide measures at long-term care and retirement homes in light of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The restrictions include preventing visitors who are not fully vaccinated from visiting loved ones inside the facilities, limiting indoor visits to a maximum of two people per resident at a time, and outdoor visits, where feasible, to a maximum total of four people per resident at a time.

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