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Visitors to long-term care homes in British Columbia will soon be allowed to see loved ones without COVID-19 restrictions as part of a plan to resume usual social activities for residents.

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry says high vaccination rates have made the return to unscheduled visits possible starting July 19, but staff will be required to report whether they have been immunized.

She says unvaccinated workers must continue wearing a mask and take a rapid test three times a week, and all volunteers must be immunized.

Dr. Henry has issued a new order for facilities to provide public-health officials with the names and personal health numbers of workers, volunteers and residents to verify everyone’s vaccination status.

She says workers who have not been immunized will be given information to make a decision about getting vaccinated in order to protect those living and working at the homes.

Dr. Henry says the percentage of long-term care staff that have received a COVID-19 vaccination is in the high 80s while more than 90 per cent of residents have been inoculated, though those numbers are lower in some facilities.

“We have that at an aggregate level and even now in the health authority level, but not on a facility level so that’s what this new order will facilitate,” she says.

Pools of fully immunized health care workers will now be permitted to move between a limited group of facilities to support those sites and to maintain appropriate staffing levels over the summer.

However, Dr. Henry says the single-site order will eventually become part of a long-term policy in B.C.

Visitor restrictions in long-term care homes were first introduced in March, 2020, after a resident at a North Vancouver facility died of COVID-19.

Dr. Henry says families and the elderly have suffered greatly by being kept apart before restrictions were slowly eased earlier this year to allow two visitors, plus a child, to enter a resident’s room without masks or staff present.

“It is an important day for everybody, particularly for seniors and elders living in long-term care homes and assisted living,” she says of those who were the first to become ill with the virus.

Larger facility-wide social events and gatherings will be starting again, and indoor gatherings will include residents and staff from all units of a facility, while friends and family can join outdoor events.

Dr. Henry says, to prevent illness, any visitor or worker who isn’t feeling well should not be entering a long-term care home.

She says 78.4 per cent of eligible people 12 and older have now received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 40 per cent of people have been fully immunized.

B.C. is reporting 59 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 147,915 cases in the province.

There are currently 649 active cases of the virus and 74 people are in hospital, with 19 in intensive care.

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