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Health unit orders suspension of 'general visiting' at long-term care homes

A new class order goes further than the provincial rules to restrict visitors and also prohibits residents from leaving facilities except for health care
2020-07-28 SMDHU offices 3
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit offices are located on Sperling Drive in north-end Barrie. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

The region's medical officer of health has issued a new order to further restrict visitors at long-term care homes. 

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is ordering the suspension of general visiting at long-term care homes in Simcoe County and Muskoka District and a limit of one essential visitor at a time indoors. 

The order also states residents must not leave facilities for short-stay or temporary absences except for those required for health care.

"The number of COVID cases and deaths continues to rise in Simcoe Muskoka and Ontario and residents of long-term care homes are so vulnerable because of their age, their care needs and the closed nature of the homes that can facilitate the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Gardner in a press release issued by the health unit. “This order is intended to decrease the risk, and to protect our elderly residents and the staff caring for them.”

There is currently a province-wide restriction on long-term care visits, but the provincial policy allows two caregivers per resident to visit at a time unless the home is in outbreak. It also allows two general visitors per resident at a time. 

Dr. Gardner's order identifies an essential visitor as someone who is not a member of the facility's staff, but is performing essential support service such as health care or maintenance, is visiting a very ill or palliative resident, or who is a caregiver designated by the resident. 

The order allows two caregivers to be designated as essential for a resident, but only one may visit at a time.

“We are seeking to strike a balance to address both the physical danger of contracting COVID-19 and the importance of addressing the mental health needs of residents living in these care settings,” added Dr. Gardner in the news release. “While they are restrictive they reflect the immediate and serious danger posed by the growing number of cases.”

Outdoor visits will still be permitted provided the two-meter distancing requirements are met. The order does not apply to retirement homes or other congregate care settings. 

To read the full order, visit the health unit website here. 

The weekly incidence rate in Simcoe Muskoka was 24.1 cases per 100,000 for the week of October 25, which is a steep increase from 5.4 cases per 100,000 people during the week of Sept. 6. 

Yesterday, the health unit reported 75 new cases, all confirmed since Friday. 

Today's report of new cases in the region has been delayed until after 2 p.m.