Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison made an announcement many P.E.I. families have been waiting for: increasing visitation to the province's long-term care facilities.
Morrison delivered the province's weekly COVID-19 update briefing Tuesday, saying there are currently no active cases of COVID-19, but urging people to continue to be vigilant and follow recommendations of physical distancing, handwashing and wearing a mask in public.
She announced a "partner in care" will now be permitted for residents of public and private long-term care facilities. A resident will name a person who will be able to visit the resident's room any time during regular visiting hours, as long as it does not affect any other resident.
They will be able to help with basic care, socialization, feeding, mobility, comfort and companionship.
Emotional connections between residents and their loved ones are "extremely important," Morrison said, adding that it is a balancing act between allowing for increased visitation, while still ensuring the health and safety of residents.
Once identified by a resident, the partner in care will be trained in proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Residents will also be able to go on drives with their partner in care. Morrison's example was a husband who would normally visit his wife in care every day, or a daughter who visits her father a few times a week.
A requirement to have six designated people as visitors has been removed, but residents can still only have two visitors at once.
Not all facilities will be able to make these policy changes immediately, Morrison added, urging patience.
When asked why a resident is permitted just a single partner in care, Morrison said officials are not ruling out adding more names down the road, but will start with just a one to ensure resident safety.
"We start slowly and if we need to add more, we can — and that can be done," she said.
Partners in care would not be permitted to travel among facilities, meaning a person could not be a partner in care for residents in different facilities. Those details will have to be looked at by the homes themselves, she said.
Physical distancing still in effect
Since the pandemic began earlier this year, 19,160 P.E.I. tests have been processed, with over 1,500 of those in the last week. The province remains "well above" the Canadian average of testing per capita, Morrison said.
However, Morrison said it is vital Islanders continue to follow health recommendations to physically distance, wash their hands frequently, and wear a non-medical face mask in indoor public spaces.
Morrison pointed to places like Australia, where cases of COVID-19 were on a consistent downward trend, before experiencing a spike.
She also pointed to the situation in the United States, which currently makes up 26 per cent of global cases of COVID-19.
"We must remain vigilant in our public health measures," Morrison said.
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