The provincial government has eased restrictions around visitation in long-term care homes and assisted living and implemented new protections for residents, including requiring workers to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested while wearing masks.
Beginning July 19, those visiting residents at long-term care homes will no longer have to schedule their visit in advance and the limit on the number of visitors will be removed.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the past 18 months have been "dramatic" for everyone, but no one has been more affected than those living in long-term care facilities. She noted that those in long-term care were the first to suffer from severe illness and that the first deaths in the province were in long-term care homes in Vancouver.
"That was a harbinger of the heartbreak that was to come," she said during a joint press conference with Health Minister Adrian Dix on Thursday.
Visits to long-term care homes were restricted early in the pandemic, only eased some earlier this year, on April 1, when visits were once again allowed.
Henry said that change was made due to the success of the province's vaccination campaign and the efficacy of the vaccines.
Visitors will still need to be screened for infectious disease symptoms upon arrival and will need to sign in, which will aid in contact tracing should cases emerge. Visitors will also need to provide proof of protection from both doses of vaccine, meaning at least two weeks following a second dose.
Those who aren't fully vaccinated or refuse to provide proof will need to continue to adhere to infection-control measures, including masks, Henry said.
Masks will not be required for fully vaccinated visitors, except in common areas of the facility.
Changes for workers are also being implemented to protect residents. Henry said she will issue a public health order to collect information on residents, staff and volunteers at all long-term care and assisted living facilities in the province, including their personal health number, and will be assessing the level of vaccination at each facility, focusing vaccination efforts on facilities where vaccination rates are low.
Workers who are not fully vaccinated are also subject to new guidelines and must continue to wear masks during their work. They will also be tested three times per week using rapid testing.
For volunteers and personal service providers, they must be fully vaccinated in order to continue their work inside the facility.
Henry also said the ministry of health is working with health authorities and unions to establish pools of fully vaccinated workers who will be able to move between multiple facilities — a practice that was halted early on in the pandemic.
As of Thursday, 78.4 per cent of all British Columbians ages 12 or older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 40 per cent are fully vaccinated.