Residents at long-term care facilities in British Columbia are now able to have in-person visits after months of being limited to virtual meetings or phone calls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday restrictions halting family visits to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable people will now be eased to allow one designated person to see a long-term care resident.
The designation could be expanded for more visitors in the future, but Henry said she wanted to start slowly.
Henry said she is immensely aware of the impacts the restrictions have had on residents and family members, but those days are coming to an end now that the COVID-19 risk has been lowered in B.C.
"We had to move quickly and decisively to protect our most vulnerable citizens," she said at a news conference. "Every day this weighs heavily on us. There have been many dark and anxious days, but today is a brighter day for us all."
Visits at provincial long-term care homes were restricted to essential-only since March in an effort to protect residents and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Henry said the facilities now must have written safety plans in place before allowing visitors.
It could take up to 10 days for a facility to be ready to accept people, but she said care homes have already been planning for visitors.
Designated visitors must wear masks and will be screened for signs of illness before entering the facility, said Henry. Visitors must book in advance and facilities where there are active COVID-19 outbreaks will remain closed, she said.
Henry paid tribute to the resilience and courage shown by residents and their families over the past months, saying "this has been a difficult time for you to be separated from the ones you love."
Health Ministry data shows of the 174 COVID-19 deaths in B.C., 122 were elderly people in long-term care, assisted living facilities or hospitals.
A COVID-19 outbreak at North Vancouver's Lynn Valley Care Centre resulted in the deaths of 20 residents.