HALIFAX: Visits can now resume at some care facilities in Nova Scotia, but with restrictions.

On June 10, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, announced the easing of some visitor restrictions at long-term care facilities and homes for persons with disabilities.

“COVID-19 has been hardest on our seniors living in nursing homes,” the premier said. “And for families visiting a loved through a window or a screen, we understand it has been lonely and difficult but has been necessary in order to reduce the number of cases and protect you.”

Visitors have not been permitted at long-term care facilities since March 15 but visits can now resume if they take place outside and visitors maintain distance from residents and staff.

“I know this is not exactly what you were hoping for, and we understand your craving for that long-awaited hug, we’re not there yet,” McNeil said. “If we properly do this and keep everyone safe, we will be able to get that hug when the time is right.”

Individual facilities will communicate directly with residents and their families to arrange visits.

This change also applies to homes funded by the Department of Community Services under the Homes for Special Care Act.

“We know that there is more risk of the virus spreading in places where people live together,” Dr. Strang noted. “And certainly in long-term care and some of our Department of Community Services homes, there are many people with underlying health conditions that puts them at significantly increased risk. That is why we need to proceed very slowly and carefully.”

To protect public health and safety, the province said the following measures are in place: visits will only take place outdoors, in designated areas on the facility’s grounds; a maximum of two visitors can attend at one time; visitors must be screened for COVID-19 upon entry, wear a non-medical mask, and anyone with symptoms will not be permitted to enter; visitor information must be logged, including date and time of visit to the facility; visitors who are self-isolating are not permitted to enter the facility or grounds; and visits will be monitored by staff, who will escort visitors to the designated area and provide personal protective equipment if needed.

“This is the minimum set of requirements that we’re putting forward,” stated Dr. Strang. “Individual facilities may put additional protocols on top of that.”

Facilities will be provided with materials to support this change, including screening guidelines and staff education materials.

“There’ll be several measures put in place to ensure that we have an appropriate level of safety even as we start to allow visits,” Dr. Strang said.

Although the visitor restrictions were lifted as of Monday, the chief medical officer of health said not all facilities will be ready at the same time.

“I think the public needs to understand that some facilities may not be ready by then,” Dr. Strang pointed out. “Ultimately it will be put to each facility when they feel ready and comfortable to start allowing visits to happen.”

There are 132 long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia that are home to almost 8,000 residents. There are over 300 homes for persons with disabilities in Nova Scotia with more than 2,000 people living in them.