VICTORIA — British Columbia is developing plans to allow family members to return to long-term care facilities to visit relatives, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday.
Visits by family members, other than end-of-life visits, have been severely restricted at seniors residences since March after COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths at Vancouver-area facilities.
"We are working, absolutely, on plans to make sure that we can let families back in to support our seniors and elders but in a safe way so that it is safe for the whole community within that facility," Henry said at a news conference. "These new ways of doing things will be coming in the coming weeks and days."
She did not provide firm details of the visiting plans other than to say, "we will find ways to allow for that important social contact while making sure we're not putting anybody else in the facility at risk."
But Henry said restrictions on visits must remain in place for the near future to limit the spread of the virus.
She said there are currently 21 COVID-19 outbreaks, at B.C. long-term care residences and acute-care units. There are 16 outbreaks at seniors residences and five at acute-care units.
COVID-19 outbreaks at 19 seniors residences have been declared over, Henry said.
She reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Saturday, bringing the total to 2,330.
Henry reported two deaths, increasing the B.C. total to 129. The province's Ministry of Health says 83 of those deaths happened at long-term care facilities — including the two most recent.
Henry said 1,659 people in B.C. have recovered from COVID-19.
Henry said she understood the loneliness seniors must feel not seeing their loved ones, but minimizing contact with others must be maintained because it is a proven method to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"This means for now we must continue to have restrictions on visitors," she said.
Henry also offered families a Mother's Day message that was focused on honouring mothers Sunday, but safely.
"It's a day that we celebrate our mothers, our grandmothers, our sisters, our aunties and we recognize the important role they play in our lives," she said. "Let's show how much we care for them by ensuring we are doing all we can do to keep them safe."
Henry said avoiding close contact, staying home if sick and choosing an outdoor activity are safe methods to celebrate the day with mothers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2020.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press