Residents in B.C.'s long-term care facilities will soon be allowed to visit with friends and family members without restrictions, provided they are fully vaccinated.
Visitation is being expanded because of significant success of the province's COVID-19 immunization program, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a Thursday news conference.
"This is an important day, it reflects the progress we're making," Dix said.
Starting on July 19, visitors will no longer need to schedule their visits in advance, they said. There will also no longer be a limit on the number of visitors each resident can have.
Henry said all visitors will need to be fully vaccinated and will be asked to provide proof of immunization when they arrive. She said visitors will still need to wear a mask in common areas but not when they are in the resident's room.
"Because of the progress that we've made across the board here in B.C., we're now at a place where we can more fully open and get back to visitation once again," Henry said.
Social events and gatherings will also resume in long-term care homes. Indoor gatherings can include residents and staff, outdoor gatherings can include family and friends. Adult day programs and in-facility respite can also fully resume.
"After an incredibly challenging 18 months, it is uplifting to see people in long-term care and assisted living get back to doing more of the things they love," Mable Elmore, parliamentary secretary for seniors services and long-term care, said in a news release.
Elmore says that, as restrictions are lifted, officials will continue to ensure the safety of seniors in long-term care facilities.
The screening of visitors and practices such as hand hygiene, use of medical masks and physical distancing will remain in place when visitation restrictions are eased.
"We are moving these restrictions slowly and carefully as we have for all of our steps in British Columbia," Henry said.
Henry says visitors who are not fully vaccinated will have to continue with the current precautions.
At the same time, officials announced new public health requirements around vaccinations to add protection for people in long-term care. The new requirements, effective July 19, include:
All facilities are required to provide public health with information on immunization status of all residents, staff, personal service providers and volunteers.
Workers who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask at work and be tested for COVID-19 regularly using rapid tests.
Volunteers and personal service providers entering facilities must be fully vaccinated.
Masks are required for visitors who are not fully vaccinated. Masks will not be required for visitors who are fully vaccinated, except when travelling through common areas.
Each site will continue to maintain a sign-in list for contact-tracing purposes.
Henry says that, although outbreaks in long-term care have decreased due to vaccination efforts, they are still happening.
She says these outbreaks have been small and contained. During outbreaks, visitation will be suspended.
Current COVID-19 situation
B.C. health officials announced 59 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Thursday.
Also as of Thursday, 78.4 per cent of people aged 12 and older had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 40 per cent had received their second dose.
The province is currently in the third step of a four-step reopening plan that aims to lift virtually all restrictions by September.
As of Monday, Canadians coming home from abroad who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to quarantine for two weeks.
Health officials have stressed the importance of vaccinations as activity levels increase. Anyone who has not yet registered for a vaccine in B.C. can do so in the following ways:
By calling 1-833-838-2323. Translators are available in 140 languages.