Thanks to vaccine rollout, Alberta can take the next step to lift more restrictions at long-term care facilities while keeping some of the lockdown rules in place.
Alberta's government will adopt a two-phase approach for easing remaining measures province-wide. The first phase will lift remaining visitor restrictions, current limits to dining and recreation activities, and additional screening for residents who go off-site. Outbreak protocols, single-site staffing, and other measures will remain in place until further notice.
There are only six active cases currently in Alberta's continuing care facilities. Since December 2020, there has been a 99 percent decrease in the number of active cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents in these facilities. To date, more than 90 percent of Albertans over the age of 70 have received at least one dose of vaccine and 87 percent are fully vaccinated with two doses.
"Residents and their family members have made tremendous sacrifices over the course of this pandemic. Thanks to the power of vaccines, there is a light at the end of the tunnel," said Health Minister Tyler Shandro via press release Tuesday.
The first phase of reduced health restrictions in continuing care settings comes into effect as soon as operators are able to make any necessary changes. The adjustments focus on lifting restrictions that now present a low-to-medium risk due to the high rates of vaccination in the living facilities.
Visitors will no longer be limited in number or conditions, but will still need to be screened for symptoms or known exposure upon entering a facility. The province recommends that visitors who have not yet been fully vaccinated, including children under the age of 12, wear masks in all areas of the building.
"This is a measured, practical approach that lifts restrictions in an incremental manner as our vaccination rates continue to climb, said Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. "The restrictions lifted today will go a long way to improving residents' quality of life while critical protections will remain in place to protect their health."
All limits to dining and recreation activities for residents are removed, which Shandro praised as providing "more opportunities [for seniors] to connect with their loved ones." Residents are no longer required to be screened upon re-entering the building or quarantine if they have gone off-site. However, in specific circumstances, such as returning from an outbreak unit of a healthcare facility, residents who are not fully vaccinated may be required to quarantine.
The Alberta government made clear that facility operators, including licensed supportive living facilities, long-term care facilities, and hospice settings, have until July 31 to fully implement these changes. Other restrictions and rules will remain in place to protect the health and safety of residents and staff, including:
- Screening upon entry and continuous masking for staff, students, volunteers and service providers
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection routines in common areas
- Single-site staffing requirements
- Testing guidelines
- Isolation and quarantine protocols
- Outbreak procedures
The remaining restrictions may be lifted in Phase Two at a later date. Alberta's two-phase approach was informed by extensive feedback from continuing care operators, Alberta Health Services, and from more than 2,000 residents, family members, and others who participated in telephone town halls in late June.