The Manitoba government plans to build outdoor, all-season shelters at personal care homes to allow residents to safely visit their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province also will allow limited indoor visits by designated caregivers with certain precautions in place starting Tuesday, Health Minister Cameron Friesen announced Monday.
While care home residents are most at risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19, it’s essential to their well-being that they stay connected to their loved ones, Friesen said.
He noted close to 80 per cent of deaths related to COVID-19 have involved people living in personal care homes, and that the province has managed to avoid the outbreaks that have happened in other provinces like Quebec, which has experienced close to 4,600 COVID-19 related deaths in its long-term care facilities.
Manitoba has recorded seven deaths from COVID-19. The fourth person to die from COVID-19 was a personal care home resident before he was hospitalized. The pandemic isn’t expected to be over in fall or even by winter, so the province is trying to be proactive and come up with solutions, Friesen said.
The shelters will need to be accessible, protected from the elements, heated and easily cleaned, Friesen said. The province wants to have the shelters under construction by August so that they will be ready to use in fall, he said.
Outdoor visits beyond summer
The province began allowing outdoor visits at personal care homes last month.
The indoor visits won’t be “business as usual,” Friesen said. They will only be for designated caregivers, who will have to wear masks and be screened before they can enter care homes. The plan is to allow them throughout the summer until the fall, when flu season usually arrives and the risk of seniors getting sick is greater, he said.
“There is some risk. We believe it is a calculated risk but we believe it’s a balanced risk — one that weighs the need to keep personal care home residents safe but also takes into consideration what it is that Manitobans have been saying to us,” he said.
But the province would like the outdoor visits to continue, he said.
“It is easier to accommodate an outdoor visit in June or July than it is in November or February, so that’s part of our thinking,” he said.
Safety upgrades in coming months
The province also announced Tuesday it would be doing numerous safety upgrades to personal care homes in the coming months, including upgrading sprinklers, fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and infection control measures.
In January, CBC News reported that more than one third of the personal care homes in Manitoba still do not have a full sprinkler system to protect residents, in spite of legislation that passed in 2015 requiring personal care homes and health facilities in Manitoba to be equipped with sprinklers within a decade.
Manitoba has been under a state of emergency for over three months due to the pandemic. Last week, the province announced the state of emergency would be extended another 30 days.
The total number of cases identified in the province remained at 313 on Sunday, when no new cases were reported.
There are 13 active cases in the province.
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