HALIFAX — Although Nova Scotia's long-term care homes have borne the brunt of the province's COVID-19 outbreak, the province announced Wednesday that it would lift some visitor restrictions beginning next week.
Premier Stephen McNeil said outdoor visits will be allowed beginning Monday, adding that the change would also apply to homes for people with disabilities.
"We understand you are craving for that long-awaited hug," McNeil said to families with relatives in the facilities. "We're not there yet, but sitting in the fresh air and a visit with your loved one is a good first step."
The announcement came as the province added one case to its total — reaching 1,061 — to reflect newly captured data.
Health authorities said there were no licensed long-term care homes with active cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including the Northwood facility in Halifax where 53 of the province's 62 deaths have occurred. There have been no visits allowed at long-term care homes since March 15.
Under guidelines released by the province, the visits will be held in designated areas on each facility's grounds and will be limited to two visitors at one time.
Visitors will be required to maintain a physical distance of two metres and they will be screened beforehand and be required to wear a non-medical mask.
The visits will be monitored by staff at each facility, which will also be required to log such things as the date and time of the visit.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said the logging is essential in order to trace people in the event that a potential COVID-19 infection is passed along.
"We need to proceed very slowly and carefully as we start to allow visiting to happen," Strang said. "We need to take it one step at a time and watch the impact each step along the way."
Under the plan each facility is to deal directly with residents and their families to arrange a time for the visits.
According to the province there are 132 long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia that are home to almost 8,000 residents, and more than 300 homes for persons with disabilities with more than 2,000 residents.
Meanwhile, Strang revealed that he would be travelling to New Brunswick on Thursday for a minor surgical procedure related to a skin cancer that was recently removed.
"I have a minor type of skin cancer ... it only spreads locally," he said. "I need another type of surgery that can re-look at things and make sure the margins of where it was removed are clear. That type of surgery is not yet available in Nova Scotia, so I have to go to New Brunswick."
Strang made a point of saying he would self-isolate for 14 days upon his return and would continue his work from home.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2020.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press