Province outlines new mask rules, visitor restrictions eased at facilities

HALIFAX: Visitor restrictions at Long-Term Care facilities have been eased, and the province announced new rules for wearing face masks in public places.

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia, announced on July 17 that some visitor restrictions in long-term care homes are being eased and non-medical masks will become mandatory on public transportation.

The changes will allow for more visitors outdoors, limited indoor visits, and some return to activities.

“COVID-19 has been difficult for all of us, but I think it’s especially true for all of those who live and work in our Long-Term Care facilities, as well as their loved ones and families,” Dr. Strang said. “We know that this isolation has had a toll on the mental and social well-being of residents and their families.”

Effective July 22, both indoor and outdoor visits will be allowed with limited numbers of visitors and scheduled appointments. Residents and visitors must wear masks and observe physical distancing, except for limited physical contact like a hug.

Dr. Strang said residents can have up to five visitors for outdoor visits, and indoor visits can now start with one visitor at a time per resident. Also, residents, or their substitute decision-makers, will be able to designate up to three people designated as indoor visitors. All visits need to be scheduled with the facility, and each facility has to designate certain areas for visits.

Residents and staff can gather in groups of 10 or less for dining, recreation or socializing without physical distancing. Groups of 10 should remain consistent and visitors into the facility cannot join.

Sightseeing bus trips for groups of up to 10 people (including residents, staff and the driver) are allowed, but residents and staff cannot get off the bus and thorough cleaning before and after each trip is required. Bus drivers will be screened in the same way visitors are at facilities.

Licensed hair salons within long-term care homes can reopen to serve residents only and most observe guidelines set out by the Cosmetology Association of Nova Scotia and submit plans for review to public health officials.

Individual long-term care homes can decide which of these changes they will implement, based on operational considerations and the availability of appropriate space. Adult Residential Centres and Regional Rehabilitation Centres licensed by the Department of Community Services will also implement indoor visits under the same guidelines.

“I feel comfortable that what we’re doing is safe,” Dr. Strang noted. “We also need to acknowledge the impacts of social isolation and we need to help address that as well.”

Starting July 24, it will be mandatory for drivers and passengers to wear non-medical masks on public transportation. Children under two and people with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask are exempt. Passengers are asked to use their own masks as much as possible. Government will help public transportation services with supplies of masks for people who can’t bring their own.

Public transportation includes municipal transit buses and ferries, school buses, community transit vehicles, and private taxis and shuttles.

Dr. Strang said in the past few months, evidence about the use of face masks in reducing the transmission of the virus has evolved and officials will continue to monitor that data, but they ask that Nova Scotians wear masks whenever they go out in public.

“Before a second wave or resurgence of COVID-19 happens, we need to make mask wearing much more of a habit for all Nova Scotians,” Dr. Strang said. “We’re taking this first step with public transit because it’s essential for many people.”

Nova Scotia Health and the IWK Health Centre will be requiring patients and visitors to wear a non-medical mask when entering hospitals and other health care facilities.

“Requiring people to wear masks adds another layer of protection that will help reduce transmission of COVID-19 and is consistent with evolving evidence and advice from public health experts,” said Nova Scotia Health president and CEO Dr. Brendan Carr.

IWK CEO Dr. Krista Jangaard said the two organizations have been monitoring the situation closely and are constantly evolving in their response to COVID-19.

“As we plan for a potential second wave, we want to ensure a consistent approach across all hospitals and health centres in the province,” she said.

This requirement does not apply to hospital inpatients, children under two years of age, or staff working in non-clinical areas, once they have arrived in their workspace where they are able to maintain physical distance from others. Staff and physicians working in clinical areas are already required to wear a procedure mask.

Patients, visitors and essential support people wearing their own non-medical mask need to continue to maintain a physical distance of two metres (six feet) from others where possible, continue frequent hand washing, practice respiratory etiquette, and avoid touching their mask and face.

All visitors will continue to be screened upon entry. Visitors with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, on self-isolation or being tested for COVID-19 due to recent travel or potential exposure to the virus will not be permitted to enter.

Also last week, it was announced that Nova Scotia will receive more than a quarter of a billion dollars under the $19-billion federal-provincial-territorial Safe Restart Agreement announced on July 16.

Premiers and the prime minister have been working on the agreement since its initial announcement in June.

The agreement is divided into seven core areas: testing, contact tracing and data management; health-care capacity and mental health services and addictions; vulnerable populations, including long-term care facilities; personal protective equipment; early learning and child care; municipalities, with a proposed new public transit element; and sick leave.

“Provinces have borne the full impact of COVID-19 and individuals and businesses across Nova Scotia will feel the impact for months to come,” said Premier Stephen McNeil.

The majority of the federal funding will be allocated on a per capita basis, with some being allocated on a needs basis and requires reporting and accounting of the federal dollars. Some measures, such as sick leave, will be fully funded and administered by the federal government.