THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health is welcoming the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in long-term care homes.
With vaccination rates solid among local LTC residents, Dr. Janet DeMille said the lifting of restrictions by the province Friday was appropriate and would reduce barriers for residents and their loved ones.
The provincial government announced this week it would remove testing requirements for fully vaccinated staff, caregivers, and visitors not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Similar guidance was also given to retirement homes.
The change was made in consultation with Dr. Kieran Moore, who succeeded Dr. David Williams as Ontario’s chief medical officer of health last month, the government said.
It accompanies the loosening of other restrictions for LTC homes as Ontario moved into step three in its reopening plan. As of Friday, the province lifted restrictions on residents’ ability to go on absences and off-site excursions, the number of visitors allowed, buffet- and family-style dining, and activities like singing and dancing.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit continues to work with local homes to ensure all residents and staff are immunized, said DeMille.
However, she said the immunization rates in local homes, particularly among residents, are strong and justify loosening restrictions.
“There were a lot of strict measures put in place in long-term care homes and other homes for the aged,” she said. “They were quite restrictive and put barriers up, really.”
“I think it’s appropriate, especially when we see the immunization rates in those settings, that we can relax on some of the [measures], especially for individuals who are fully vaccinated.”
Some limits remain.
Riverside Health Care, which operates homes in Rainy River, Emo, and Fort Frances, released updated guidelines reminding caregivers and visitors of masking and distancing requirements.
One-hour limits for visits are still in place, and proof of vaccination status is required for those taking advantage of the new testing exemptions.
Caregivers who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated must provide a negative PCR or rapid test within a seven-day period to enter a home, while general visitors require a same-day rapid test.
Temperature checks are also being ended, but screening questions remain in place.