VICTORIA -- B.C. health officials announced Tuesday that limited in-person visits will return to long-term care and assisted-living facilities across the province, after roughly three months of lockdown restrictions.

A range of new health measures will be in place, including limiting the number of visitors to a single designated person, and hosting the visits in designated areas of each facility.

Visits must also be made by appointment ahead of time.

Dates for care-home visits will vary between facilities. Health officials say that each care home will be responsible for establishing safety plans for resident visitation.

“Today is brighter day for us all,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Henry said that B.C.’s success in reopening the economy while keeping COVID-19 cases low shows that the province is capable of restarting visitations safely.

She added that B.C. now has sufficient resources in place to facilitate safe visitations, including an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for staff and residents, and a low number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

“Now the timing is right to (reopen) our long-term care and assisted living facilities,” she said.

However, health officials cautioned that all visitors must take precautions when visiting care homes, as residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Henry adds that there is an “immense” amount of stress and anxiety in care homes for residents, family members and health care providers if an outbreak occurs.

“We must do everything we can to avoid that,” she said.

Visitors must bring and wear a mask at care facilities, and staff will train visitors on how to wear the face coverings properly.

Family and friends must also closely monitor their health and cancel or postpone any visits if they are feeling at all unwell.

“That will be the most important thing right now,” said Henry.

Meanwhile, staff will also monitor the designated visiting zones, which may be indoors, outdoors, or an individual resident’s room, depending on the care facility. 

Residents of assisted living facilities, meanwhile, will be given more freedom to arrange their own outdoor visitation with friends and family.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that up to 2,040 new staff members will be added to long-term care and assisted-living facilities across the province to help support safe visitations.

Designated staff members will screen each visitor who enters a care home and will inform them of any relevant health guidelines.

Dix says $26.5 million will be dispersed among long-term care or assisted living facilities to help fund new visitation staff and protocols, as well as general COVID-19 health measures.

“(Health care) is not just about extending life, but living life, and that involves engaging with the people that we love,” said Dix.

Personal service providers, like hairdressers and barbers, will also be allowed to re-enter care homes. Personal service workers will have to submit a written safety plan to any health facility that they are attending, which must include detailed contact information.

Health officials say they will be monitoring the visitation restart closely, and will expand access to more than just a single visitor per resident “as soon as it is safe to do so.”

If COVID-19 cases remain low and restarting care-home visitation is successful in the weeks to come, restrictions could be loosened as early as August.

“Moving thoughtfully with care will give us the confidence to move forward,” said Henry.

While B.C. is announcing new limited visitation, health officials say that it may take some time for policies to be developed at every facility.

Each individual care home or assisted living facility must create a plan that best suits their needs. This process is underway, but could take several days to finalize.

“I know that everyone is excited and anxious to see their families,” said Henry. “Please be patient for the next few days so we can ensure that all the safety measures are in place.”