Ottawa Mayor Vows to End Ban on Window Visits for Retirement Homes

April 30, 2020 Updated: April 30, 2020

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he’s ordered the people who run the city’s nursing homes to find a way to let family members visit residents through windows again.

The four municipal homes’ administrators told families to stop coming to their grounds in letters sent out this week, saying there had been incidents of outdoor visitors not observing distancing rules meant to protect residents from COVID-19.

The instruction prompted a furor from families who haven’t been allowed in to visit their relatives in weeks, as well as from city councillors.

It also prompted an impassioned response from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose family has been visiting his own mother−in−law, who has tested positive for COVID-19, in this way.

“That’s just wrong,” he told a news conference Thursday when asked about Ottawa’s move.

“They’ve got to think these things through. Go visit your loved ones, as far as I’m concerned. This is critical. And hopefully it won’t be the last time you see them. I’d go to the window.”

In a memo to city council after Watson’s order Thursday, the city’s general manager of social services said imposing the restriction was difficult. Donna Gray wrote that she knows residents in long−term care homes depend on contact with loved ones for both physical and emotional well−being.

But, she wrote, “on a number of occasions visitors on the premises have not respected the physical distancing requirements and have been in direct contact with staff and residents putting residents and staff at risk of exposure” to COVID-19.

About 700 people live in Ottawa’s four city−run long−term care centres. Four staff in them have tested positive for COVID-19, but no residents have yet, Gray wrote, and the policy was intended to try to keep it that way.

Warmer weather means more residents will go outdoors if they can and will only have more contacts with outsiders if they’re around the buildings, she added.

The mayor said he wants a new plan in place by May 7. Gray’s memo says they’ll work with the local health unit on a way “for families and residents to connect in a supervised and scheduled environment to respect physical distancing for the safety and health of residents and staff.”