Lambton long term care residents likely won’t have more visitors until July under new rules

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Valerie Verberg received the first COVID-19 vaccine in Lambton Jan. 26. It took until mid February for all long term care residents to be vaccinated.

Reality is sinking in for the families of long term care residents in Lambton – new provincial rules which would allow more freedom for vaccinated seniors likely won’t take affect here until July.

Long term care homes have had strict rules about visitation during the pandemic since seniors are the most at risk group in COVID-19.

During the Stay-At-Home order, only essential caregivers are able to go into long term care homes. After the order is lifted, homes will open up to visitors, two at a time, physically distanced with masks, in regions where there is low transmission of COVID-19. Essential caregivers and visitors will have to show they have tested negative for COVID-19.

But Tuesday, the province eased restrictions further, saying seniors will be able to eat in common dining rooms and go on short term outings in the community with family.

But there are some caveats; 85 per cent of the residents of the home and 70 per cent of the workers have to be fully vaccinated. That means they’ll need two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. Right now in Lambton County, only residents have two shots.

Lambton received its first vaccines in late January and the supply was so limited, public health decided to vaccinate only residents in long term care homes and retirement homes that are linked to them. Staff were vaccinated weeks later at local clinics.

Deb Krukowski’s dad lives at Vision Nursing Home in Sarnia. She says only 62 per cent of the staff vaccinated. By the time, 70 per cent of the workers have had their first shot and then wait the four month interval for the second, it will be well into July.

“The new directive has come down and it’s great for people in the GTA, but here in Sarnia Lambton – where we were last to receive the vaccines – we’re also going to be the last ones that to get the double jab.”

That means just Krukowski and her sister can have face-to-face visits with her dad who moved to Vision just after the first wave and lost his wife in November. It has been difficult for the family, she says, to comfort him and keep his spirits up.

“My kids haven’t seen my dad since before my mom passed away, other than doing Skyping and video calling, which is really hard with a person that is 95 years old and is mostly blind and a lot deaf; it really is a challenge.”

And there is no relief in sight. Thursday, at a Lambton Public Health media briefing, Dr. Sudit Ranade, said there are no plans to shorten the wait time for the second dose for staff in long term care.

“The current policy direction is that second doses are only protected for a small subset of the population and for everyone else, the expectation is that we’re going to give first doses to as many people as we possibly can, and then circle back and get second doses by about the four month mark.”

Ranade says if the public health unit would move up the long term care workers, others would soon follow.

“I can tell you there are a number of groups right now that are actively seeking their second doses and the key message from the province has really been first doses are more important right now. And that’s what we’re going to do.

“I think that any any ministry or organization that sets up guidelines based on the based on the need to have two doses, is basically forecasting what will happen eventually, rather than saying that this can happen right now,

Ranade adds if Lambton public health were to prioritize second doses of the vaccine, it would be to a small group of people who are medically at risk, potentially cancer patients.