SUDBURY -- It's the news that many have been waiting to hear during this 3-month isolation: Ontarians can visit their loved ones in long-term care. 

Premier Doug Ford made the announcement in what he called a "cautious restart" at certain facilities. The facilities can't be in the midst of an outbreak.

Anyone visiting a long-term care home must test negative in the two weeks leading up to their visit and wear a mask. There are some facilities that are also putting in additional stipulations like appointments to enter buildings.

Even still, many at St. Gabriel's Villa in Chelmsford were happy with the news calling it a step in the right direction. 

"Absolutely our residents are very much looking forward to having visitors," said Joanne Palkovits, CEO of St. Joseph's Health Centre which operates St. Gabriel's Villa. "I can't say enough. Having said that, our staff are doing an amazing job keeping our residents safe."

St. Gabriel's had only one outbreak during the past three months, a staff member, and none of the 128 residents contracted the virus. 

Former Greater Sudbury city councillor Evelyn Dutrisac was among the first to visit the facility and visit her husband. They'll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at the end of June.

"He was very lonesome and depressed and to be able to do some visiting, it means so much to a relationship," beamed Dutrisac. "I feel for all of the residents here. It's so important to be able to know that your loved ones are taken care of." 

Dutrisac now serves as the president of St. Gabriel's Family Council. She tells CTV News she cried tears of joy upon seeing her husband for the first time. 

"My husband would call me nearly four, five, seven times a day, and the care here is just excellent. He's never complained of the care. He's happy and that means a lot," she said. 

The former city councillor adds she stayed home and decided to heed the call of Ontario's premier and the Prime Minister. Dutrisac said she's grateful Sudbury hasn't had spikes in numbers compared to other parts of Canada. 

It was a similar story in Sault Ste. Marie, where residents at Kotitalo Assisted Living were "walking on sunshine" over the news they may soon be reunited with their loved ones. 

"Everyone's getting excited and with the beautiful weather here. Everyone wants to get out and a lot of people want to get out and see what the city of Sault Ste. Marie looks like," smiled Heidi Schell of the Ontario Finnish Rest Home Association. 

Schell got the ball rolling on the facility's video rendition of "Walking on Sunshine," which is now racking up the views on YouTube.


"They were on Cloud 9, having fun. Right from where we depicted the knock on the door and how she felt when her family could knock on her door again to the lady that opened the mailbox, to the parade itself and doing the dancing. I told them to have fun with it, let loose and do whatever you can and put your heart and soul into how you're feeling when this is all over and they did," said Schell. 

While isolation has been a concern for many of us, it's particularly difficult in those long-term care surroundings.

"As we entered the third month of this pandemic, we started to see the effect of isolation and visitor restrictions. So what we're seeing is higher rates of depression, higher rates of anxiety, but we're also seeing higher rates of physical decline," said Dr. Jo-Anne Clarke, a geriatrician at Health Sciences North. 

"I would think that being able to see your loved ones is good news, but we would think that it doesn't go far enough," added Dr. Clarke. "We need to recognize that designated care partners or family members provide 30 per cent of informal caregiving in long-term care. These are essential services, such as feeding, mobility and social activity, and these are things that make a real difference in peoples' lives." 

Dr. Clarke says geriatricians are dealing with higher rates of malnutrition and mobility loss. 

"So we need to equip long-term care with the staff they need to make this happen, with the PPE (personal protective equipment) to do it safely and the policies that will keep us all safe. But we need to recognize and acknowledge that these are essential care partners," said the older adult expert. 

"It's an important issue federally. We haven't been involved and obviously the health and long-term care ... but I've been working hard to make sure the federal government works closely with the provinces. We have to do this together. But in my opinion, and what we're looking at more is, we need more national standards," said Nickel Belt Member of Parliament Marc Serre. 

Serre bought pizza for the staff at St. Gabriel's and the Elizabeth Centre in Val Caron to thank them for the hard work they've done throughout the pandemic. 

"When you look at the individuals that are here, the isolation and the health, it's so important to have that physical contact. And because of the COVID, that's been very challenged, obviously. So now we re-open, how can we find ways to make sure residents and staff are supported," he added. 

There have been 335 outbreaks at Ontario's 626 long-term care homes and only 72 of them are still considered active. 

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,636 resident deaths due to COVID-19 at Ontario's long-term care homes.