Nursing Homes in Ontario Finally Start Opening for Family Visits, But With Strict Guidelines in Place

Ontario is joining a number of other provinces in allowing family visits in longterm care homes, with guidelines that include the wearing of masks and COVID-19 testing for visitors. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

After three months of waving at loved ones through distant windows, today Ontario joins Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. in allowing families to finally have in-person meetings at nursing homes and retirement residences.

And while these visits are indeed welcome and long overdue, they will only be allowed under certain conditions. That means calling ahead to book your visit, wearing a mask and getting tested for COVID-19.

Families have not been able to get close to their loved ones in nursing homes since mid-March, when the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 first started cutting its deadly swath. In that time, more than 300 Ontario nursing homes experienced outbreaks that led to nearly 1,800 deaths (as of June 18).

Some of the more poorly run residences became so overwhelmed that the province had to call in the military to help out. This led to a huge outpouring of anger against the beleaguered homes by family members. It also resulted in several class-action lawsuits against long-term care operators and vociferous calls on the government to rethink the way it cares for the most vulnerable.

This familial separation brought about by the lockdown has caused great anguish. Family members, who provide essential care or companionship for loved ones, were unable to do so, except through phone calls or video conferencing. Many watched helplessly from outside as outbreaks took over homes and caused great loss of life. Grief-stricken families were even forbidden from being with their parents in their last hours.

“I hope that reunions with loved ones are a bright spot in this otherwise trying time,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care.

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— Merrilee Fullerton, MPP (@DrFullertonMPP) June 18, 2020

With the disease numbers dropping and everything slowly returning to normal, the Ontario government recently released these guidelines for the first stage of nursing home visits that will see outdoor meetings following strict health measures.

“I ask everyone to be cautious and act responsibly as the battle to contain COVID-19 is not over and the risk to our loved ones still remains,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Rules for visiting nursing homes

Outdoor Visits Only

  • For the first phase of the reopening, elder care homes will offer outdoor visits only. Each facility will create a dedicated area outside of the building where families can meet their loved ones.

Call Ahead

  • You must contact the nursing home to book your visit ahead of time so that they can prepare to have the resident outside at the appointed time.

Limited Visiting Hours

  • For the first stage, only one visitor per resident will be allowed. This will ensure that the facility can provide sufficient staff to enforce appropriate physical distancing protocols.
  • Families will only be allowed one visit per week.
  • The length of each visit will be limited according to the policy of the individual facility. However, all visits must be at least 30 minutes in length.


  • All visitors are required to bring their own mask or shield. Down the road, when indoor visits are allowed, gowns must be worn at all times. These will be provided by the facilities.


  • Before being allowed to see their loved one, visitors must attest to staff that they have tested negative for COVID-19 within the previous two weeks. The homes will not provide testing.


  • You can only visit homes that are not presently in a COVID-19 outbreak. Currently, there are 68 homes that are experiencing an outbreak so these will be off limits until the infection is brought under control. If a home experiences a new outbreak, visiting privileges will end and the facility will go back into lockdown.
  • All facilities must follow the provincial guidelines to the best of their capabilities and communicate the rules to families. However, visitor admissions will vary from home to home, depending upon their individual circumstances.


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