Ontario eases long-term care home restrictions to allow larger outdoor, indoor visits

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore will hold a briefing on the COVID-19 situation in the province at 3 p.m.

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Ontario is further easing restrictions on long-term care homes, with residents now able to have outdoor visits of up to 10 people and indoor visits of up to two general visitors and two caregivers, effective July 7.

The changes mean residents will be able to access personal care services and relaxed cohorting during outdoor activities. There were will also be no limit on the number of people who can be designated a caregiver by a resident or substitute decision maker.

Ontario’s new long-term care minister Rod Phillips announced the changes in his first appearance in the role, as the province reported 209 new COVID-19 cases — the lowest daily case count since mid-September, on the eve of moving into Step 2 of the government’s reopening plan.

Speaking to reporters, Phillips acknowledged his own government “failed” residents, staff and families with loved ones in long-term care during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Successive governments including this one failed residents and failed families. And they failed our staff and on behalf on past governments and the current government, I apologize for that. I think that’s a necessary step so that we can take the action we need to do now to move forward.”

Philips also hinted at new long-term care legislation that might increase accountability among long-term care providers.

“We have been, for a variety of reasons, less proactive on inspections than we needed to be,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s clear who has obligations and we’ll hold them accountable for those obligations.” 

Phillips resigned from his post as minister of finance late last year after it was revealed he took a weeks-long Caribbean vacation over the Christmas holiday while his own government advised against travelling 

He was made minister of long-term care as part of a large-scale cabinet shuffle earlier this month, when he replaced Dr. Merrilee Fullerton in the role. 

Cases continue decline

Today’s count comes health units across Ontario collectively administered 265,231 doses of vaccines yesterday — a new high.

Notably, the Ministry of Health’s official report today cited 299 further cases. Ninety of those infections, however, were from 2020 and were included today as part of a “data review and clean-up” by Toronto Public Health.

The ministry also reported an additional 25 deaths this morning, but 19 of them were from “previous months” and were added as part of a separate data review by Public Health Ontario.

The newly-recorded deaths bring the official death toll in the province to 9,154. 

Excluding the cases that artificially inflated today’s total count, the province’s seven-day average of new daily infections now sits at 266.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s lab network completed 28,306 tests — more than double the amount logged on Monday. Public Health Ontario logged a test positivity rate of 1.6 per cent. 

As of yesterday, 276 people were being treated for COVID-related illnesses in intensive care units. Some 185 of those patients were on ventilators.

At 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, all but one of Ontario’s 34 public health units will move into Step 2 of the province’s reopening plan, as the province slowly rolls back pandemic restrictions that were introduced to quell a deadly third wave of infections this spring.

That phase of the reopening plan will allow indoor gatherings of up to five people and see hair salons resume operation for the first time in months.

Provincial data said as of Tuesday, more than 77 per cent of adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 35 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Those vaccination rates meet the criteria laid out for entering Step 2 and Step 3 of the reopening plan, though officials have said they’ll proceed cautiously before loosening restrictions further.

Ontario’s reopening plan leaves 21 days between each step to monitor public health indicators. 

Ontario is entering into Step 2 of reopening on Wednesday, which will allow for hair salons to reopen. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

 

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, says the province is in a “very good place right now” entering Step 2.

“The pace of vaccinations is very, very fast,” he told CBC Toronto on Tuesday, adding that the number of people fully vaccinated is “skyrocketing.” 

Bogoch said as the province continues to up new appointments and expand eligibility for vaccines, the burden of COVID-19 will only lessen further.  

While he thinks the province will be ready to enter Step 3 in the next few weeks, he says the province needs to continue to break down barriers to get more people access to the vaccines. 

“The job isn’t done,” he said. 

Premier Doug Ford said on Monday that Step 3, which allows more indoor activities and larger crowd capacity outdoors, might come “sooner than later” depending on advice from the province’s top doctor.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kieran Moore, who replaced Dr. David Williams as chief medical officer of health on Saturday, is expected to take questions today at 3 p.m. at his first news conference since officially taking on the job. 

Moore had been working alongside Williams for the last several weeks since his appointment was announced.

Dr. Kieran Moore officially stepped into the role of Ontario’s top doctor on June 26. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

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