Those waiting to see their loved ones in long-term care or assisted-living facilities will soon be able to do so, following changes to B.C.'s pandemic-related public health orders.
As of April 1, those in long-term care will be able to have "regular, frequent and routine opportunities" for social visits, according to the provincial government.
The requirements that residents in these facilities have one designated social visitor have been removed and up to two visitors (plus one child) will be allowed and residents can have visitors in their rooms.
Physical touch will also be permitted between visitors and residents.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the announcement on Thursday (March 25).
The BC Care Providers Association has been advocating for changes to visitation for months and, on Thursday, CEO Terry Lake said he was "elated" by the news.
"All operators, workers, residents, of course, and their families will be jumping for joy as much as possible today," he told KTW after Thursday's press conference.
Lake said the change means families will once again be able to connect and quality of life "has gone way up."
Lake said he thought there might be a more graduated approach to allowing visits in care homes, but following a briefing by Henry on Thursday morning, he noted the provincial health officer's confidence makes sense.
"She's so confident of the response of the vaccination program that she feels comfortable being a bit more liberal with the changes. I think that's great," Lake said.
During the press conference, Henry did tout the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, but also offered some caution.
"The reality is that it is likely we are going to have more outbreaks in care homes now that we're allowing more people to come into those care homes," she said. "But we are at a point where the benefits of having those social connections and interactions outweigh the risks, and we know we can manage those risks with the majority of staff and residents protected by immunization," she said.
B.C. put health-care workers and care-home residents at the top of the list to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. As a result, Henry said, the majority are now protected.
Some measures to prevent the spread of the virus will remain in place, with visitors required to wear masks and wash hands and health screening to prevent anyone who is ill from visiting.
Lake said some challenges remain with regard to unvaccinated workers at long-term care homes and assisted-living facilities, pointing to the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna as an example, where he said up to 35 per cent of workers opted not to be vaccinated, and to examples in other provinces, such as Ontario, where uptake was only 50 per cent.
"We haven't seen that in B.C. to that degree. We're more likely to be 80 per cent [uptake], but that still leaves 20 per cent unvaccinated," he said.
Lake said he hopes that if mandatory vaccination for workers isn't on the table, that at least rapid testing for workers prior to shifts can be implemented.