Ontario is going back to long-term care facilities in the fight against COVID-19.
Effective November 15, all in-home employees, support workers, volunteers, and students working in long term care homes will have to be be fully vaccinated against the virus. The announcement was made Friday afternoon in Toronto by Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips.
"As new variants continue to spread, we are seeing a growing number of outbreaks in long-term care homes where the risk to those most vulnerable remains high," said Phillips. "This enhanced suite of measures, including mandatory vaccinations for those working in the homes of long-term care residents, is one more way we will provide them the greatest level of protection possible."
Despite previous waves of COVID-19 being brought under control in LTC homes, Phillips said the Delta variant of the virus is behind an upswing in new cases, once again putting residents at risk.
All LTC employees, students, and volunteers must provide proof of vaccination to their employer by November 15, unless they have a valid medical exemption. If they don't, staff will not be allowed to come to work.
LTC facilities will also begin to randomly test fully vaccinated people, including patients and employees, to help put a lid on any breakthrough infections. Testing will also continue for people who are not vaccinated, with the Ministry of Long-Term Care holding the right to send testing teams into homes to validate results.
Any new hires will have to either be fully vaccinated or produce a medical exemption.
The announcement is getting a quick reaction from both the LTC industry and from Ontario's Opposition. AdvantAge Ontario CEO Lisa Levin said that her association is "relieved."
"Our association has been urgently calling for this as the most critical step in protecting residents, especially with the rise of the Delta variant," Levin said in a media release. "Our members have been working extremely hard to increase their staff vaccination rates, but this mandatory requirement was the missing piece to support their efforts. With this policy in place, not-for-profit homes, which are often stand-alone homes run either by a volunteer board or in the case of municipal homes, by local officials; no longer have to assume the legal risk of introducing mandatory vaccinations."
NDP Long-Term Care Critic Sara Singh, MPP for Brampton Centre, said the LTC facility order is not enough.
"Thousands of seniors lost their lives during the chaos of previous waves because Doug Ford failed to protect them," said Singh. "It’s heartbreaking for families to see new outbreaks in long-term care, in other health care settings and schools when we know how to stop them. Vaccines work, and they are available. Opt-out tests should never have been on the table in the first place for any worker in close contact with vulnerable Ontarians."
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca agreed, but is pleased LTC facilities are now involved.
"I’m relieved to hear Ontario will mandate vaccinations for staff in nursing homes, but I cannot understand why it took so long and why the mandate doesn’t apply to all health care settings," said Del Duca. "These mandates should be immediately extended to all types of elderly and home care, as well as hospitals and schools. Twenty-seven residents of Ontario long-term care facilities have died since we began calling for mandatory vaccinations. Nineteen long-term care homes are in outbreak right now. Forty-three staff members are currently infected."