Is it safe to hug mom in long-term care this Mother's Day? If you've both had all your shots, yes!

As more residents and staff get vaccinated, Ontario is loosening pandemic restrictions on long-term care homes, so communal dining and indoor events and other safe activities can resume for the fully immunized.

Province lowers some restrictions on indoor dining, physical distancing in time for special day

Mary House-Goldman visiting her mother Patricia Janes, 85, through the window of a long-term care home in Toronto on July 1, 2020. (CBC)

While many will spend the special day physically distanced from loved ones for a second year, Sunday will be a special Mother's Day for some families and their moms in Ontario long-term care homes.

For months, Frank DeBlasio could only see his 91-year-old mother Guiseppa DeBlasio through the window of Chartwell's Wenleigh Long Term Care Residence in Mississauga.

"It was really, really frustrating because she was also recovering from a stroke," said DeBlasio, 62.

"It is very heartbreaking when you can just see someone through a window and you can't really interact and touch the person."

Now, his mom has had two shots of the Moderna vaccine, and DeBlasio and his wife have both had two doses of Pfizer vaccine.

Guiseppa DeBlasio, 91, has been a resident at Chartwell’s Wenleigh Long Term Care Residence in Mississauga for about a decade. (supplied)

"It's going to be amazing. Very special. One of us will go in at a time and be with her while the rest of us are outside watching from the window. Luckily, she's on the first floor," DeBlasio told CBC News.

As vaccination rates rise, Ontario says it is loosening pandemic restrictions placed on long-term care homes, so communal dining, indoor events and gatherings can resume. Also, residents and their caregivers who are fully immunized may have physical contact, even hugs.

Visitors must still take precautions

Lisa Levin is the CEO of AdvantAge Ontario, the association that advocates for not-for-profit long-term care, housing, and services for seniors in the province.

"This Mother's Day, if you have been fully vaccinated, meaning you've received both doses of a vaccine, you can now hug your loved one. And that's something that we haven't been able to say in a really long time," she said.

"We know that a lot of people haven't had their second dose yet, so that is frustrating, but we're getting there."

Frank DeBlasio, 62, plans a special Mother's Day with his mom Sunday. She has been fully vaccinated and so has he. That means they are allowed to hug for the first time in 14 months. (CBC)

Still, Levin adds, visitors must take precautions.

They must still wear masks and eye protection, and those visitors must be designated as the residents' essential caregivers.

In addition, residents still won't be allowed to leave for non-medical reasons.

"People will not be going for high tea this Mother's Day, but they will be able to continue to see their essential caregivers and hugs are getting very close," Levin said.

Last year, Mother's Day gatherings that happened despite physical distancing rules were blamed for a spike in Ontario's COVID-19 cases.

Lisa Levin, the CEO of AdvantAge Ontario, the association advocates for not-for-profit long term care, housing, and services for seniors, says she's glad restriction have lifted for fully vaccinated residents and their caregivers in time for Mother's Day. (CBC)

And Levin says there are still concerns about opening up too quickly.

"Well, it's kind of scary to loosen the restrictions, but it's something that the time has come and it's something that we really need to do in our homes."

With approximately 94 per cent of long-term care residents fully vaccinated and 84 percent of staff having received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 shot, new cases and deaths are drastically down in these settings, says Sinai Health geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall. 

Stall says the situation now is in stark contrast to what happened last year in Ontario when COVID-19 killed thousands of patients in long-term care. 

"It seems unbelievable that these words are coming out of my mouth, but one of the safest places to be during the third way is inside a long term care home," he said.

He says the return of congregate dining, indoor group social activities and hugs with fully vaccinated caregivers will help ease the social isolation for residents, which could improve their health.

Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Sinai Health, says lifting restrictions on long-term care operators is long overdue. (David Common/CBC)

"Hopefully, when the stay at home order lifts in a couple weeks, the province will rapidly move towards allowing these people freedoms I think they should have probably had a month ago, but it is a step in the right direction."

While DeBlasio is happy he gets to hug his mom this Mother's Day, he says distancing protocols in the dining room and for social activities haven't been lifted at her residence, because not enough staff have been fully vaccinated.

The Ontario government states that 85 per cent of residents and 70 per cent of staff need to be fully vaccinated for those restrictions to be lifted.  

"This is an example of the inconsistency of long-term care," DeBlasio said..


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.


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