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Ontario halts visits, social trips for long-term care residents amid Omicron spread


TORONTO — Ontario long-term care homes won’t accept general visitors or allow residents to leave for social reasons starting this week. 

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said that COVID-19 is spreading in the community and allowing general visitors would risk exposing vulnerable residents to the virus. 

"More people coming in from the community when there's more COVID in the community inevitably will lead to more spread," Phillips told a news conference on Tuesday. "That's the rationale behind it."

Two designated caregivers will still be allowed to visit each resident after the changes take effect Thursday at 12:01 a.m. 

Palliative visits will be allowed, and residents can leave for essential reasons like medical appointments.

Phillips said 41 long-term care homes were experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks as of Tuesday, up from 37 the previous day. 

He didn't specify whether outbreaks had been linked to general visitors, but said they came from a "range of sources," with many still being investigated by public health. 

Provincial data on the number of outbreaks and people infected in each situation was not updated on Tuesday or over the holiday weekend, but some health units and operators shared updates on local outbreaks. 

Northumberland County reported on Sunday that two employees had tested positive for COVID-19 at a municipally run home in Coburg, Ont.

A statement from the municipality said protocols are in place, with all residents and staff to be tested since the outbreak was declared and again by Jan. 1.

More than 4,000 long-term care residents have died from COVID-19 in Ontario since the pandemic began — nearly 40 per cent of all virus deaths recorded in the province — and more than 15,700 living in those homes have tested positive. 

A commission that looked at COVID-19 in the sector wrote in its final report this spring that the mental health impact of pandemic restrictions on residents are similar to those experienced by prisoners in solitary confinement.

Outbreaks and deaths began to decline earlier this year after widespread vaccinations took off in the sector, and many restrictions on residents' lives were lifted.

But some tougher measures have been brought back recently in light of the Omicron variant — a highly contagious strain of the virus that appears to infect those vaccinated with two doses. 

Phillips said 84 per cent of eligible residents and 43 per cent of workers had received COVID-19 vaccine booster doses as of last week. 

He said efforts are underway to raise those numbers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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