Indoor events, communal dining with precautions now allowed under new Ontario COVID-19 LTC directive

WATCH ABOVE: A small glimmer of hope from the province Tuesday that regular life might not be too far off in long-term care homes. Katherine Ward has more on the calls from family members about where they hope the government takes action going forward.

The Ontario government has issued a new directive for the province’s long-term care homes that will see COVID-19 restrictions eased after a high uptake of vaccinations.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, officials said the update to the province’s directive was made by Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.

“The updated sets out that long-term care homes can now safely resume activities such as communal dining and indoor events and gatherings with precautions,” the statement said.

“Additionally, residents and their caregivers who are fully immunized may choose to have close physical contact beyond what is required for care and supervision, such as hugging.”

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As of early May, the government reported 95 per cent of all long-term care residents were fully immunized with two of the required COVID-19 vaccine doses.

It was also reported that more than 85 per cent of long-term care staff have received one vaccine dose. Officials didn’t indicate what percentage of staff are fully vaccinated.

However, at facilities where 85 per cent of residents and 70 per cent of staff aren’t fully vaccinated, extra precautions will be imposed.

After the current Ontariowide stay-at-home order is over, officials said further directives on temporary and social outings for fully immunized residents will be made public.

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However, they noted anyone who is not symptomatic can leave the homes at any time for outdoor exercise, groceries, medical appointments, compassionate absences and to visit pharmacies. Facilities are also required to give residents medical-grade masks for outings while encouraging adherence to public health measures.

News of the new directive came days after a scathing report was released by an independent commission examining the province’s long-term care sector and the government’s response during the pandemic.

Ontario Long-term Care Minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton said the government is taking action to address problems highlighted in the report, which outlined the province’s neglect of nursing homes in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said on Monday the deaths of residents and staff in long-term care homes must not be in vain.

READ MORE: Ontario’s LTC sector not ‘sufficiently positioned, prepared’ to respond to COVID-19 in effective way, auditor general says

Fullerton said the government is moving to address a severe staffing shortage, improve the quality of care for residents, and build new beds.

“I’m committed to making long-term care a better place for staff to work, and a better place for residents to live,” she said.

Although she was present for question period at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Fullerton declined to speak with reporters after the morning session.

The Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission called for an overhaul of the sector and laid out its recommendations in a final report that was delivered to the government Friday evening.

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Meanwhile, officials said general COVID-19 precautions need to still be taken.

“All Ontarians, including all staff, visitors, and residents in long-term care homes, must continue to practice public health measures including masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and staying at home when they are sick,” Tuesday’s statement said.

“While COVID-19 immunizations have been demonstrated to be very effective, it is important for Ontarians to not let their guard down during this crucial period in the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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