A controversial new policy meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Ottawa’s nursing homes could be quashed in the coming weeks if politicians have their way.
The City of Ottawa announced Wednesday it was banning window visits at city-run long-term care homes, which have been a popular way for people to visit elderly relatives and friends during the current pandemic. Critics argue it’s a safe way to check in on loved ones in person while following physical distancing guidelines, but the city says it comes with risks that could prove deadly.
The new policy was met with outrage on social media from residents, city councillors, the mayor and the premier, who blasted the move as “ridiculous.”
“That’s just wrong,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.
“They’ve got to think these things through. Go visit your loved ones, as far as I’m concerned. This is critical. And hopefully it won’t be the last time you see them. I’d go to the window.”
The premier’s comments came after Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called on city staff to work with public health officials develop a new policy by May 7.
The city says it’s dealing with more than 1,200 cases of the novel coronavirus and the last thing it wants to see is an outbreak at a long-term care home, where the population is older and especially vulnerable to the virus. There’s already 350 cases of COVID-19 in other long-term care homes in Ottawa, city officials say.
“The decision to restrict window visits was a difficult one,” Donna Gray, general manager of Ottawa’s community and social services department, said in a memo sent to HuffPost Canada. “The new measures will be in place until visits can occur safely for all the residents and staff in the Home.”
Since the pandemic began, window visits have been a way to safely see someone without the risk of infection. Ontario’s long-term care homes have been restricting in-person visits since the middle of March.
But the city says some nursing home visitors have not been respecting physical distancing guidelines, putting staff and residents at risk. Ottawa has no COVID-19 cases in any of its city-run long-term care homes and the policy is meant to keep it that way.
There are other ways to connect with loved ones during the pandemic, the city says. Skype, phone calls, emails, personal letters and other methods are available, along with scheduled meetings.
Despite these opportunities, the city says more people are visiting long-term care homes, putting lives at risk. More than 700 people live in Ottawa’s four city-run long-term care homes, according to the the city . No residents currently have COVID-19, but four staff members have tested positive.
The city says these care homes are at higher risk of outbreaks due to the lack of capacity for staff to monitor visitors outside, the unscheduled nature of such visits and the need for enhanced health and safety measures to keep residents and visitors safe during the pandemic.
Long-term care homes have been hotspots for COVID-19 in Canada. Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail reported 79 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths have been connected to long-term care. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, warned in April the number of deaths in long-term care facilities is expected to keep rising.
Deadly outbreaks have been reported across the country, forcing provinces such as Ontario and Quebec to call in the military for assistance.
As of Friday morning, there have been 53,236 confirmed and presumed cases across Canada, including 3,184 deaths.