Nursing homes loosen COVID-19 restrictions in transition to 'new normal'

Nursing homes are trying to balance COVID-19 precautions with quality of life, said Julie Weir, CEO of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.  (Corbis - image credit)
Nursing homes are trying to balance COVID-19 precautions with quality of life, said Julie Weir, CEO of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes. (Corbis - image credit)

New Brunswick nursing homes have loosened COVID-19 restrictions as they transition to the "new normal" of living with the virus, says the head of the association.

But exactly what rules have changed and what precautions are being taken is unclear.

"Certainly COVID hasn't gone away, it's still in our communities, it's still around," said Julie Weir, CEO of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.

"But it's about having the right level of protection for the residents and the staff, but still allowing them to live their lives and have a good quality of life."

Some measures, such as employee masking, remain in place, Weir said.

Asked about other measures, such as whether infected employees still have to stay home from work, however, she said CBC would need to speak to individual homes. "I don't have that level of specificity."

CBC
CBC

She also directed CBC to Public Health when asked to clarify if the department has no blanket rule regarding what homes can do about sick employees.

Department of Health spokesperson Abigail McCarthy, meanwhile, said "vulnerable settings can continue using enhanced infection and prevention control measures as per their discretion."

"Specific questions about restrictions in New Brunswick nursing homes would be best directed to the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes or specific homes," she said in an emailed statement.

Outbreaks at 12 homes

At least 12 nursing homes are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, the Department of Health confirmed to CBC News last week.

There are also outbreaks at 16 congregate living facilities, such as retirement residences and special care homes, the department confirmed.

COVID-19 killed seven more New Brunswickers in the past week, raising the pandemic death toll 599, Tuesday's COVIDWatch report shows.

Twenty-three people were newly admitted to hospital because of COVID between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, and there are 33 people currently hospitalized because of the virus, five of whom require intensive care, according to the province.

Meanwhile, the two regional health authorities say there are 146 people hospitalized either for or with COVID, including 10 in intensive care.

A total of 866 new cases of COVID were reported in the past week through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests and rapid tests.

Not trying to avoid COVID as much

Health officials have predicted a surge in COVID and flu activity in the coming weeks and months. The department continues to monitor the situation closely, said McCarthy.

"As the weather becomes cooler and people spend more time indoors, there are more chances to spread viruses," she said. "We certainly continue to expect an increase in COVID-19 activity this fall and winter," she said, without elaborating.

There's always some risk, but it's about determining what is the acceptable risk. - Julie Weir, New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes CEO

Nursing homes are also keeping a close eye, said Weir, but they're "not trying to avoid [COVID] as much as [they] were when the spread was.much higher."

They're "more open to visitation and residents moving about than they were even, you know, several months ago," she said.

"So making sure that residents are able to do as much as they would like, within reason," while making sure that everyone "knows the risk."

"There's always some risk, but it's about determining what is the acceptable risk," said Weir, underlining the importance of visitation to residents.

It's a delicate balance, she said. "We're doing the best we can."

Measures vary

Asked about COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, Weir said there are COVID cases "popping up, just the same as there are in the communities."

Nursing homes are doing a "fantastic job" of responding quickly to any signs of illness and working closely with Public Health medical officers to ensure they're taking "all of the appropriate measures, and to make sure that all of the appropriate reporting is happening, to the best of everybody's ability," she said.

Those measures depend on the situation and differ from home to home, Weir said.

COVID continues to make health-care worker shortages even worse, she said, but the association is working with nursing homes on recruitment and retention, particularly international recruitment, to try to bring some relief.