Ontario health officer urges long-term care homes to allow only essential visitors
Dr. David Williams, chief medical health officer, says environment needs to be safe for residents
Ontario's chief medical officer of health is urging all long-term care homes in the province to allow only essential visitors into their facilities until further notice to protect residents from COVID-19.
Dr. David Williams issued a memo on Friday to long-term care homes, retirement homes, supportive housing and hospices.
"In order to ensure a safe and secure environment for residents, we strongly recommend that these settings only allow essential visitors until further notice," Williams said in the memo.
Essential visitors are defined by the Ontario health ministry as people who are visiting a resident who is dying or very ill, or a parent or guardian of an ill child or young person in a residential treatment setting.
According to the memo, the recommendation comes as the province is trying to maintain the safety of its most vulnerable residents.
Williams said all visitors must continue to be "actively screened" to enter long-term care homes.
"Those who fail screening will not be permitted to enter. No other visitors should be permitted to enter these premises. Instead they should be asked to keep in touch with loved ones by phone or other technologies, as available," Williams said.
The Ontario health ministry will reassess the measure in the coming weeks, Williams added.
"The safety and well-being of our vulnerable residents is our top priority. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and ensure that we are prepared," he said.
The recommendation follows a directive earlier in the week for long-term care homes to screen all visitors actively at the door for COVID-19.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott told long-term care homes on Wednesday to screen all staff, students, volunteers, visitors and new and returning residents for the coronavirus and to check "proactively" for symptoms.
All staff and essential visitors are to be asked as well about recent travel history and contacts.
Elliott had noted that long-term care homes in Ontario already have respiratory infection outbreak protocols in place for flu season.
Now, when the homes submit samples for standard respiratory testing, the samples will be automatically tested for COVID-19, she had said.
She had said the move is intended to identify potentially unknown cases.
Directive follows Canada's 1st death from COVID-19
Health officials are taking extra precautions around elderly people in the wake of Canada's first death from COVID-19.
A B.C. man in his 80s, who had underlying health issues, died of the virus on March 8. He was a resident of Lynn Valley Care Home in North Vancouver.
Meanwhile in Ontario, the number of confirmed cases continues to climb.
On Saturday, the Ontario government announced 22 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 101.
A total of 939 cases are being investigated in Ontario, while a total of 6,646 people have been approved for COVID-19 testing.
The Ontario government has what it calls a "command table" on the coronavirus that is discussing how best to protect vulnerable people.
Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low.
However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe.
Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.