SASKATOON -- With just a few weeks until Christmas, a Prince Albert man is hopeful new COVID-19 infections will see a decline so he could spend the holiday with his mother, who lives in a long term care home.

“She’d called me times crying, telling me there are times she can’t handle it and she has to get out of there,” Andrew Johnson said.

He’s been able to visit her but is limited to talking on the phone and looking through a care home window.

Before the pandemic hit, Johnson said his mother, who has dementia, would spend Christmas at his house with her grandchildren.

Since March, the province has limited in-person visitation at long term care homes. Since a COVID-19 outbreak in Prince Albert in September, long term care homes have been under stricter rules.

“Since the pandemic started she hasn’t been able to leave the long term care home. I have no problem with the long-term care home. It’s a good place for her but it’s been tough on her,” Johnson said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said temporary restrictions to open family visits are in place across all SHA facilities and long term care homes in an effort to contain COVID-19. The SHA said it is committed to returning to open family visitation but only when it's safe to do so, the SHA said in a news release.

The SHA allows family present only for patients in compassionate care and end of life care.

With new measures and public health restrictions in place, Johnson said he hopes the measures curb the spread of the virus before Dec. 25.

“I’m hoping with the slowdown in the economy and I hope people take advantage of this because we literally have three weeks before Christmas,” he said.

“If we can go two weeks and get a handle on this hopefully and maybe they can do something over Christmas where they can get out.”

Johnson said he is willing to go to great lengths to visit his mom on Christmas.

“I’ll wear a mask, I’ll put on a hazmat suit just to go sit down and talk to her.”

A doctor with the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) said families and caregivers should be allowed to visit loved ones in long term care homes - if they are treated like care-home staff.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research for NIA and director of geriatrics with the Sinai Health System in Toronto, said the effects of isolating family members far outweighs the risk of spreading the virus in a care home.

Dr. Samir Sinha

Dr. Samir Sinha

“We found in areas where they have blanket restrictions on visiting, it really has had a huge detrimental effect because a lot of residents, they would rather take the risk of dying than going months without being able to hold and see in person an actual loved one,” he said.

Sinha and the NIA recently published a report explaining guidelines to achieve a balanced approach to COVID-19 precaution in long term care centres.

The report states that visits to long term care centres can be facilitated safely if the appropriate measures are in place.

“By following proper infection-prevention, giving them access to personal protective equipment, they can often visit in very safe ways. That includes the ability to hug and hand-hold without the risk of someone passing on COVID-19 from the community into the home.”

Sinha said Ontario and Prince Edward Island have adopted guidelines easing in-person restriction to long term care centres, and since then no outbreaks caused by visitors or family members following the guidelines at those care homes in those two provinces.

“Why we still are seeing jurisdictions in some parts of Canada that have maintained blanket restrictions that are not allowing in-person visits, it boggles my mind because it really just creates a lot more suffering for residents regardless of COVID-19.”