Here’s another hopeful sign the pandemic is loosening its grip: London Health Sciences Centre is about to open its doors to some visitors.
Starting next week on Nov. 1, people who are “care partners” to hospital patients will be allowed to be in the hospital, providing they are fully vaccinated.
Care partners are the people identified as those who offer physical, emotional or other supports to a patient or are substitute decision makers for those who need them. Typically, they are family and close friends well aware of the patient’s medical history.
That’s different than those who just want to stop by the hospital to see a sick neighbour or friend. Adam Dukelow, LHSC’s chief medical officer, said at Monday’s pandemic media briefing it’s still hard to predict when social visits will resume again.
“There’s many things to consider like the amount of COVID in the community, our vaccination rates as well as … tight spaces,” he said, referring to the hospital’s decision to limit the number of people in the hospital to ensure safety and make sure the facility is available to those who need it.
The hospital’s announcement comes a few days after it reached 99.2 per cent vaccination coverage of its staff with the termination of 84 people who didn’t comply with the two-dose vaccination policy.
There are exceptions for some unvaccinated care partners. Those assisting women in labour or parents bringing their children for appointments will be allowed in hospital, but they must go directly to a patient’s room and not to any public spaces like cafeterias and waiting rooms. Also, they must wear a mask at all times.
But it’s a good start to a return to normal. This is going to take some time.
Which gets me to Premier Doug Ford’s announcements last week in which he recognized that, while it appears Ontario’s high vaccination rate is holding back a fourth wave, there is the need to be slow and careful in the weeks ahead.
It still didn’t stop the premier from making a sunny prediction that this all may be behind us by the end March, when the government wants to end public health emergency orders.
Restrictions on capacity limits at restaurants, fitness centres, casinos and other indoor settings came off on Monday providing the patrons are fully vaccinated. Night clubs with dancing and strip clubs won’t be far behind. And there’s a hope that vaccine certificate requirements might come off lower-risk settings in January.
That all sounds pretty spiffy, especially in an election year. But before we start putting together planning sessions for the ticker-tape parades, a word of caution. This all gets scuppered if we have a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“We’re not quite out of the woods yet,” said Alex Summers, Middlesex-London’s associate medical officer of health, using a mantra that’s become so familiar during the past few weeks.
“COVID continues to circulate. We are not through this yet, but there is certainly hope around the corner,” he said.
Summers said, though it’s good to have target dates, prepare for adjustments as we all retreat indoors for the winter where the transmission risk is higher.
“It would not be a surprise to me if they change. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if they remain the same,” he said of the targets.
But it all depends on increasing the number of shots in arms. Middlesex-London had only seven new cases reported on Monday, another good sign. Not surprising, is that new cases generally are found among the unvaccinated, but of concern is the growing number of children younger than 12 with the virus, something the health unit is monitoring closely.
Outbreaks were declared at three area schools on the weekend, a move made by the health unit when it finds evidence of transmission within the school environment. Summers emphasized that cases at schools are expected and school practices of masking and distancing have worked well.
What will drive case counts downward even more is when vaccines are approved for youngsters, likely within weeks.
That campaign for kids, booster shots for seniors, getting the vaccine-hesitant to roll up their sleeves and a few more weeks of caution could indeed make those government targets easy marks.
Hopeful caution, but caution just the same.