Care homes tighten visiting rules as second wave gathers speed


Social distancing and face masks obligatory, even within social bubbles

Strict safety

Residential care homes in Flanders have tightened up rules for visiting residents in response to the increasing number of coronavirus infections in the wider population. But the measures stop short of a complete lockdown.

“We are mindful of the mental well-being of care home residents, and it is precisely to avoid the need once again for a general ban on visits that we are asking for extra caution,” said Karine Moykens, who chairs the Covid-19 Care Taskforce.

It will now be mandatory for all visitors to care homes to wear face masks and to keep a distance of 1.5 metres, even if the person they are visiting is part of their social bubble. Shaking hands, kissing or hugging will no longer be permitted during visits.

The taskforce also wants to see visits take place in the open air or in designated meeting places, rather than in residents' rooms. Cafeterias can be used, as long as there is a screen between the resident and the visitors.

Leaving the care home as part of the visit is not ruled out, as long as the usual safety measures are followed, and there has been no spike in Covid-19 cases in the locality.

“In many cases, flare-ups occur locally or regionally, so facilities are asked to be extra alert and to monitor the local situation,” Moykens said.

Alert levels

Meanwhile, members of the Flemish Parliament have called for a system of colour-coded alert levels to be set up for residential care homes, to guide the response to outbreaks.

“In this way, we can avoid a general lockdown in all residential care centres but impose measures locally after a risk analysis,” said Lorin Parys (N-VA), a member of the parliament's Coronavirus Committee. “These measures could range from a ban on in-room visits to closing the cafeteria, but we can also ensure that some form of contact is allowed.”

The committee released its interim report on care homes on Friday. A strong theme running through its 95 recommendations is the importance of mental health.

“The mental well-being of residents and staff of residential care homes must be central in a possible second wave,” said Katrien Schryvers (CD&V). “Residents must always be able to receive visits from at least one person, for example.”

Photo: Getty Images/Dobrila Vignjevic