COVID-19: B.C. health officials restricting visitors at long term care homes

Visitors to long term care homes are now restricted to essential personnel only in a bid to stem the spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, brought in the new restriction Friday, saying the virus is spreading rapidly in the community.

She said they are limiting visitors starting Saturday to protect vulnerable seniors and health care workers. The government will re-evaluate this decision on Jan. 18.

“This virus has changed,” said Henry, adding that while it has become more infectious it appears to be a milder illness in those who are fully vaccinated.

Health officials are also opening up booster shots to six months after the last vaccine for residents over 18. They are encouraging pregnant people who had their last shot six months ago not to wait for an invitation and to call and book an appointment.

And, health officials are reducing the time that people need to self-isolate if they are fully vaccinated to five days from 10 as long as they don’t have symptoms like fever

Henry said starting now if you no longer have symptoms you only need to isolate for five days. This means you can go back to work with a mask but should stay away from settings where there are vulnerable people like care homes and large gatherings.

The reason for this new measure is because the Omicron variant has a shorter incubation period and people recover more quickly, Henry said.

However, if you are unvaccinated you still need to isolate for 10 days.

Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Program, said as of Thursday B.C. health officials had provided 905,784 booster shots. She said they are working to get invitations out to people who had their last shot six months ago but there is a backlog.

Health officials cautioned that there are 800,000 people now eligible so it will take several weeks to get booster shot invitations out to everyone.

She said again they will be using sport and community centres and arenas to provide booster immunizations.

B.C. businesses are facing serious challenges with staff shortages, but Henry encouraged all employers to have a plan to support people staying home while sick. She said it may mean some businesses have to close temporarily if they don’t have the staff. She also encouraged anyone who can to work from home.

Health Minister Adrian Dix urged British Columbians not to gather for large parties this New Year’s Eve. He said the Omicron variant is spreading fast and he expects people to follow the rules.

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