B.C. seniors in long-term care are allowed to designate a social visitor as well as an essential visitor who provides feeding, mobility, personal care or communication, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.
Only about a third of seniors in B.C. long-term care have an essential visitor approved by their facility administrator, and with reduced risk to COVID-19 exposure due to booster vaccines and the effects of the Omicron variant, reducing isolation for residents is important, Henry said at a pandemic briefing Tuesday.
“if you have two children, one of them can be your essential visitor, if they’re already designated, and you can have another person come in to be your visitor,” Henry said Feb. 1. “That’s what we want across the board. Those are at the residents’ choice, and every resident is entitled to have their designated visitor who can come at any time. That’s in addition to those people who have already been identified as essential visitors.”
All visitors are required to show proof of two doses of vaccine, and take a rapid test before entering. Masks and other measures are also enforced in care facilities. Extensive community exposure with the now-dominant Omicron variant has led to a significant increase in infections detected among staff and residents, but essential and designated visitors should still be allowed in even during declared outbreaks, Henry said.
“With the increase in transmission in our communities, we’ve also seen an increase in people who have COVID in our long-term care and seniors assisted living facilities. We’ve seen that reflected in the numbers of outbreaks that we’re seeing,” Henry said. “While there is no question that, again, our seniors and elders in care are being affected, we are seeing a difference very similar to what we saw in hospital, where the severity of illness for most is far less, and this absolutely because of the very high-levels of vaccination and booster doses in residents of long-term care and in staff.”
Henry promised new guidance for health care visits would be posted. As of Feb. 2, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control advice remained that only essential visitors can enter long-term care facilities, while assisted living residents can have visitors who are vaccinated and have no symptoms.
Declaring an outbreak at a senior home is also changing. For most of the pandemic, a positive test by a single resident or more than one staff member that suggests transmission within the facility would trigger a declaration. Henry said regional medical health officers can now use discretion when investigating conditions at a long-term care home.