Advocates and those who have lost loved ones amid the outbreak in personal care homes say Manitoba’s plan to drop a number of pandemic health protection measures next week will put vulnerable seniors at risk.
Next Tuesday, isolation will no longer be mandatory after he has tested positive for COVID-19, one of several restrictions that expire this month.
“This is heartbreaking for someone like me,” said Eddie Callisto Tavares.
Her father, 88-year-old Manuel Callisto, was one of 56 residents of Maples Long-Term Care Homes who died in 2020 after one of the deadliest outbreaks of the pandemic in Manitoba.
Our governments and public health leaders who are supposed to be looking after their best interests [public] Health based on science, not politics, is slowly dismantling the safeguards in place so that we can continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society,” said Callisto Tavares.
Manitoba also announced late last month that it would begin relaxing visitation rules in care homes, including allowing Visiting unvaccinated guests.
On March 15, mask mandates will no longer be in effect in most places in the county. The latest information released last month from Shared Health indicates that masks remain mandatory in long-term care facilities, as do screening protocols.
As of early March, Manitoba no longer requires health care workers, including those working in long-term care, to be vaccinated, or to undergo routine testing if they have not been vaccinated.
Care homes are free to continue to enforce vaccination requirements, although not all have them.
Saul and Claribel Simkin Center dropped its evidence on the vaccination requirement from guests and staff when the county lifted that mandate this month, though not without fear.
“It definitely makes us nervous,” said Lori Sirkti, chief executive of the Winnipeg nursing home.
“You hope to do the right thing, and you hope that the government will give the right guidance and advice.”
Sirketi said the facility will continue to authorize masks whether or not the county decides to lift that authorization.
She believes that many restrictions have been relaxed in a short period, and the lifting of isolation requirements makes an uncertain transition scary.
“I think it’s totally baffling why we’re putting that in place now,” she said. “We are nervous. We are afraid….Does it mean that employees will be able to come to work sick? Does it mean that if a resident gets sick they won’t have to isolate them in their room? Does it mean that family members are still able to visit?”
Having visitors to personal care homes is “crucial” after two years of isolation, said Laura Tamblyn Watts, executive director of CanAge National Group for Seniors.
“But eliminating essential public health standards that protect against the spread of Covid seems premature,” Tamblyn Watts said.
She believes removing the COVID-19 positive isolation requirement for Manitobans is a “horrific idea” that “doesn’t seem to be based on evidence.”
“We have worked hard to ensure that the spread of COVID 19 is curbed, and now Manitoba appears to have taken my hands off the wheel, and are letting people who have been confirmed positive for the infection go about their business, which is exactly how epidemics continue, not end.”
It also says that turning mandates into recommendations can make it difficult for care homes to enforce the rules they choose to keep.
‘Abuse and neglect’
On top of the disappearance of the isolation requirement, Callisto Tavares believes dropping vaccination or the requirement for routine testing for care home workers is irresponsible.
“In my mind and in the minds of those who fight for the rights of older people, this is abuse and neglect,” she said.
Ron Westcott, 77, said he doesn’t bother with scrapping vaccine requirements for workers and guests because it can contract and spread COVID-19 when you’re vaccinated, if not at lower rates.
He said the Brandon nursing home where his mother Jemima Westcott, 111, lives, has always been doing a good job of enforcing public health orders, and has notified families that they will follow the county’s guidance going forward.
The nursing home will continue to screen visitors at the entrance and require guests to wear masks, and there are still restrictions on the number of guests allowed.
But Westcott questions the rationale behind removing the isolation requirement after a positive test, and questions how much care homes were led in the decision to abandon the rule at the county level.
“If someone tests positive but is allowed out to the public immediately, that worries me,” he said. “It’s something I’m very surprised they’ve changed.”
A regional spokesperson said Public Health is advising people to stay home when sick.
“Personal care homes have strict infection control and prevention measures in place to limit the spread of respiratory illnesses, and residents are strongly encouraged to stay abreast of the latest COVID-19 and influenza vaccines,” a spokesperson for Personal Care Homes said in an email.
“Work is still in progress as Institutions and Shared Health work to finalize individual site requirements following changes to the March 15 Public Health Ordinance.”