TORONTO — More than a dozen hospitals across Ontario are implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for visitors, in addition to mandates for their staff.
University Health Network in Toronto, which enacted an early vaccine mandate for staff that went beyond a provincial directive, is now planning to ask visitors for proof of full vaccination starting Oct. 22.
"At UHN we care for people who are amongst the most immune-compromised and immune-suppressed patient populations in programs such as the multi-organ transplant program, cancer program and heart program," spokeswoman Gillian Howard said in a statement.
"Contracting this virus, in addition to the conditions patients are currently being treated for, could well result in death so we are doing everything within our power to make the hospital sites as safe as possible."
Beginning on Oct. 25, Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga and west Toronto will require proof of vaccination from people going to visit patients, with exceptions in place, such as for patients in the emergency department.
They say they will not be accepting a negative test in lieu of full vaccination for all other visitors, in order to devote staff resources to focus on patient care.
Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance says it will require family and caregivers to be fully vaccinated starting Nov. 1, with some exceptions in place.
"Our primary responsibility to those needing our hospitals for care and to our team is to provide as safe an environment as possible," president and CEO Andrew Williams said in a statement.
"Requiring full vaccination against COVID-19 is one of the best ways of achieving this."
Other hospitals with mandatory visitor vaccination policies in place or on the way include Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, The Ottawa Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, Cornwall Community Hospital, Brockville General Hospital, and William Osler Health System.
Windsor Regional Hospital was one of the first to require proof of vaccination from visitors as of Aug. 30, though unlike most other hospitals that are following suit, it does allow unvaccinated visitors to enter if they have had a negative result on a PCR test within the past 72 hours.
Director of communications Steve Erwin said in general the community has been supportive, and it helps that the hospital is now allowing more visitors than it did during previous waves.
"Do we get people that show up at the hospital or at screening that are frustrated or at times angry? Sure we do," he said in an interview..
"We acknowledge that there are individuals who don’t agree with vaccines mandates and policies and are frustrated by what they have to do. The fact is we’re a hospital. We’re a health-care setting. We have an obligation to protect people."
The hospitals implementing these policies all have similar exceptions to it, including visitors for patients that are children, at the end of life, or in labour. Some make exceptions for patients in the emergency department, or those who require a support person due to a language barrier or cognitive impairment.
Vaccination is not required for people to be treated in hospital, they stress.
But an additional layer of protection is needed around vulnerable patients, they say.
Ontario reported 306 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and 12 more deaths. It's the lowest number of daily new cases since early August.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 202 cases are in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status.
There are 153 people in intensive care units due to COVID-19 -- 14 are fully vaccinated, six are partially vaccinated, 68 are unvaccinated, and the remaining 65 have an unknown vaccination status.
The province reported 269 new school-related cases, though that represents cases logged between last Friday and Tuesday.
More than 87 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 82.5 per cent have both doses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2021.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press