Region drops mask mandates at Regionally-operated LTC homes in Oshawa, Whitby, Beaverton

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Published June 30, 2023 at 11:42 am

The mask mandate at Durham Region’s four Long Term Care homes has finally been lifted, more than three years after the deadly pandemic was first declared in March 2020.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care began loosening COVID-19 restrictions by eliminating the requirement for rapid antigen testing when visiting on March 31 – a moved called a “significant step in moving to more normal living” – and as of today – June 29 – masks are no longer required in administrative or other areas of the home. Masks are still recommended, but caregivers and visitors may join in activities, share a meal in communal areas and provide mealtime assistance without masking.

Hillsdale Estates and Hillsdale Terraces in Oshawa, Fairview Lodge in Whitby and Lakeview Manor in Beaverton will continue to make masks available for anyone who wishes to wear one.

Residents at the four long term care homes all suffered during the first two years of the pandemic, with the Oshawa homes hit the hardest, especially during the early days.

A six-week long outbreak at Hillsdale Terraces that began in the pandemic’s earliest days in 2020 – the first of 16 outbreaks at the facility – claimed 14 lives. Residents of neighbouring Hillsdale Estates have been hit with 35 outbreaks since 2020, with half, surprisingly, in the last year. Eight residents of Hillsdale Estates died in a month-long outbreak in September 2021.

The numbers were even more tragic in some of Durham’s privately-operated homes, such as Orchard Villa in Pickering, where 78 residents died from the virus, with others losing their life through dehydration, starvation and neglect,” according to a report from the military, which had to be called in to help during the worst days of the pandemic.

(Orchard Villa has been approved by the province for a 30-year extension and to add 320 beds to the facility.)

The COVID-19 virus has claimed the lives of 522 Durham Region residents since the pandemic was declared.

The COVID numbers have been dropping steadily in recent months – there is currently just one outbreak in Durham, and it’s not at a LTC home – and there hasn’t been a death reported in weeks, so the loosening of restrictions at long term care homes is not a shock.

The removal of the mask requirement is another step for residents at the Region’s LTC homes to move to a more “normal” living, visiting and working environment, and Jim Van Allen, who works at a Regional facility, is happy about the decision.

“After three long years, Durham Region Long Term Care homes are now mask free for all staff and visitors,” he said on social media. “Thank you to everyone who worked as a team to keep our residents safe over the past few years!”

The Ministry of Long-Term Care and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is continuing to monitor the status of the pandemic and the no-mask requirement is “the next step” in the phased approach to embedding COVID-19 response measures into routine operations for people living in, working in or visiting long-term care homes.

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