Residents of long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia will soon be allowed to enjoy visits with more of their loved ones and the resumption of some activities.
The provincial government announced the further easing of COVID-19 restrictions at long-term care homes during a news conference on Friday.
“We know this has been long and difficult months. It has been emotional, stressful and sad because you couldn’t see your loved one. I hope these last few weeks, because you’ve been able to go visit outside, has offered some relief, but I know that wasn’t possible for everyone,” said Premier Stephen McNeil.
“Get yourself ready for that visit and that long-awaited hug.”
The province first eased visitor restrictions in June, allowing residents to have outdoor visits with a maximum of two people.
The changes announced Friday will allow residents to visit with more people outdoors and limited indoor visits.
“COVID-19 has been difficult for all of us, but I think it’s especially true for those who live and work in our long-term care facilities, as well as their loved ones and families,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.
“The restrictions that we implemented four months ago were done to protect the physical health of residents and were necessary. But we know that this isolation has had a toll on the mental and social well-being of residents and their families.”
Long-term care facilities can implement the following changes on July 22:
Up to five people can visit a resident outdoors at a time.
Up to three people can be designated for indoor visits, per resident, but only one person can visit at a time.
Facilities will establish designated locations for visits.
Appointments must be scheduled with the facility.
Visitors must wear a mask at all times during indoor visits.
Visitors may not need to wear a mask during outdoor visits, if they maintain a distance of six feet. But they must wear a mask if they wish to have limited physical contact, such as a hug.
Visitors must wear a mask when they arrive at the facility, where they will first undergo a COVID-19 screening process.
Residents and staff can gather in groups of 10 or less for dining, recreation, or socializing without physical distancing. Groups should remain consistent and visitors cannot join.
Sightseeing bus trips for groups of up to 10 people, including residents, staff and the driver, are allowed. However, residents and staff cannot get off the bus, and the vehicle must be thoroughly cleaned before and after each trip.
Licensed hair salons within long-term care homes can reopen to serve residents only. Hair salons must follow the guidelines set by the Cosmetology Association of Nova Scotia and must submit a safety plan to the facility within which they are located. The plan must include keeping a list of residents who visit the salon.
The province says long-term care homes can decide which changes they will implement.
“With new cases remaining very low we’re comfortable that we can now open visitation more and bring some more normalcy back into the lives of the residents and their families,” said Strang.
“We ask for families to be patient, to work with their facilities that have loved ones living in, and give those facilities time to make the necessary arrangements.”
He also stressed that visitors should cancel their visit if they are feeling unwell.
Adult residential centres and regional rehabilitation centres licensed by the Department of Community Services can also implement indoor visits under the same guidelines.
MASKS ON PUBLIC TRANSIT
The Nova Scotia government also announced Friday that drivers and passengers will be required to wear non-medical masks on public transportation, starting on July 24.
“The evidence on non-medical masks have evolved throughout the pandemic and our public health direction is evolving along with that,” said Strang.
“We certainly are learning that the public wearing non-medical masks is an effective tool in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 … before a resurgence of COVID-19 happens, we need to make mask-wearing much more of a habit for all Nova Scotians.”
The mandatory mask requirement applies to municipal transit buses and ferries, school buses, community transit vehicles, and private taxis and shuttles.
Masks are not mandatory on buses or other vehicles that transport employees in a work situation, nor are they mandatory on provincial ferries, or ferries that travel between the Atlantic provinces.
Children under the age of two, and people with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask, are exempt.
“The vast majority of Nova Scotians are able to wear masks … there are very few valid medical reasons to not wear a non-medical mask,” said Strang. “They’re mainly related to anxiety.”
He also noted some people with cognitive or developmental disabilities may not be able to wear a mask.
The provincial government will help public transportation services with supplies of masks for people who can’t bring their own, but passengers are encouraged to use their own masks as much as possible.
Strang also said, while masks will be considered mandatory on public transportation, the province won’t actively enforce the requirement.
MASKS IN HOSPITALS, HEALTH-CARE FACILITIES
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Health announced Friday that, starting Tuesday, patients and visitors will be required to wear a non-medical mask when entering hospitals and other health-care facilities in the province.
NO NEW CASES OF COVID-19
The province reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, for the second day in a row, despite having tested almost 1,000 people on Wednesday and Thursday.
The QEII Health Sciences Centre's microbiology lab completed 499 Nova Scotia tests on Wednesday and 491 tests on Thursday.
“We’re still testing a significant number of people, because as we continue to reopen the province, it’s important that anyone who has symptoms that could be from COVID-19 get tested and get tested early,” said Strang. “The only way we have to contain the virus is to know it exists and be able to have rapid public health follow-up around those cases.”
The latest case of COVID-19 was identified Tuesday and reported on Wednesday, in the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s central zone.
Strang said the source of the person’s infection remains under investigation.
“So, this is an important reminder to everyone that COVID-19 is still with us and we must all remain vigilant and follow public health measures as part of our new normal,” said Strang.
“We’re living with COVID-19 and we’re in this for the long haul.”
To date, Nova Scotia has 59,124 negative test results.
TWO ACTIVE CASES OF COVID-19
The number of confirmed cases remains at 1,067, though 1,002 cases are considered resolved and 63 people have died, leaving two active cases in the province.
Among the 63 Nova Scotians who died from COVID-19 are 53 residents of the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax.
There are no active cases of COVID-19 in any long-term care facilities and the Northwood outbreak is considered resolved.
There are also no longer any patients in hospital as a result of COVID-19.
“That in itself is an important milestone as well,” said Strang.
The province's confirmed cases range in age from under 10 to over 90.
Sixty-one per cent of cases are female and 39 per cent are male.
There are cases confirmed across the province, but most have been identified in the central zone, which contains the Halifax Regional Municipality.
The provincial government says cumulative cases by zone may change as data is updated in Panorama, the province’s electronic information system.
The numbers reflect where a person lives, and not where their sample was collected.
western zone: 54 cases
central zone: 903 cases
northern zone: 57 cases
eastern zone: 53 cases
The provincial state of emergency has been extended to July 26.
SYMPTOMS AND SELF-ISOLATION
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to self-isolate at home, away from the public, for 14 days.
Anyone who travels to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic region is also required to self-isolate for 14 days and must fill out a self-declaration form before coming to the province.
Residents of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador are no longer required to self-isolate when travelling to Nova Scotia, but they must provide proof of their place of residency at provincial borders.
Anyone who experiences one of the following symptoms is encouraged to take an online test to determine if they should call 811 for further assessment:
fever (i.e. chills, sweats)
cough or worsening of a previous cough
shortness of breath
nasal congestion/runny nose
loss of sense of smell or taste
red, purple or blueish lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause