The impact of COVID‑19 physical distancing restrictions on the health and wellness of long-term care residents in Ontario
Globally, the COVID‑19 pandemic has had an indescribable impact on daily life. In many regions, long-term care (LTC) homes felt the brunt of this impact, experiencing high rates of infection and mortality among their residents. As the system grappled with increasing infections and resulting deaths, many jurisdictions, including Ontario, vowed to put an “iron ring” around the LTC system, implementing a number of physical distancing measures, including an end to in-person visitation. While the restrictions sought to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, it is unclear what secondary impacts or unintended consequences the restrictions have had on individuals living in LTC. This project will combine important contextual information gathered through surveys of LTC homes with comprehensive administrative health data to better understand the impact of different approaches used to meet public health guidelines to ensure physical distancing. Specifically, we are interested in understanding if some restrictions were more effective at reducing the spread of infection than others, and if these restrictions had a detrimental effect on resident health and wellness. Our mixed methods study also includes interviews with patients, families, and caregivers to explore and understand their experiences with long-term care both before and during COVID‑19 restrictions, focusing on the nature and extent of the physical distancing restrictions and deliberative dialogues with key stakeholders including LTC providers and administrators, provincial government and public health representatives, and patients and caregivers. Overall, the goal of this work is to provide actionable recommendations to optimize social contact among LTC residents while minimizing the risk of infection. The findings of this study are critical for local, provincial, and national policy makers to consider as we continue to deal with the ongoing spread of COVID‑19 and prepare for future pandemics.