'Brief hugs' to be allowed in Ontario long-term care homes regardless of vaccine status

Alicia Tamayo, left, 95, waves to her daughter Betty Fernandez from her window at the Eatonville Care Centre where multiple deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in Toronto on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ontario is easing a number of COVID-19 restrictions in long-term care homes next week, allowing ‘brief hugs’ to take place regardless of vaccination status.

The government made the announcement in a news release late Thursday morning, attributing the lifting of public health measures to high vaccination rates in long-term care and an improvement in “key public health indicators.”

As of June 9, residents who have been fully immunized with both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to leave their facilities for day and overnight social outings and trips. Residents with significant health conditions or mobility limitations may have one general visitor at a time inside the long-term care home, in addition to an essential caregiver.

Finally, ‘brief hugs’ are now allowed regardless of resident or visitor vaccination status.

“Where both the resident and visitors are fully immunized, close physical contact, including handholding, can now take place safely,” the government added while emphasizing that all parties should continue to wash their hands and mask appropriately.

The new rules mark a change from last month, when outdoor visits with physical distancing was allowed. Hugs could take place as long as both individuals were fully vaccinated.

A number of public health measures were put in place at Ontario long-term care homes in the first wave of the pandemic, as COVID-19 spread through the facilities, killing a disproportionate amount of residents in comparison to the general public.

Among the restrictions was a ban on family visits, unless an individual was designated an essential caregiver.

Throughout the month of May, those restrictions slowly eased up to allow communal dining, indoor events and gatherings to take place.