Personal care homes will be among the first facilities in Manitoba to require proof of COVID-19 immunization from visitors when new rules come into force Monday.

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Personal care homes will be among the first facilities in Manitoba to require proof of COVID-19 immunization from visitors when new rules come into force Monday.

However, care home operators have yet to be given access to the mobile application capable of verifying immunity certificates and QR codes issued by the provincial government to Manitobans who have been fully vaccinated.

And without the application required to scan QR codes, Sherry Heppner, development co-ordinator at The Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, said they will trust that visitors are honest about their vaccination status and that the proof they provide is legitimate.

"We would be very pleased to receive the tool that would allow us to do so. That would just be that extra step of validation," Heppner said Friday. "It’s also about knowing your family and friends well and we’re pretty sure that our families will be more than truthful, and of course, their friends will be more than truthful as well."

Premier Brian Pallister shows off a vaccination card earlier this month. (Kevin King / Pool files)

KEVIN KING/WINNIPEG SUN

Premier Brian Pallister shows off a vaccination card earlier this month. (Kevin King / Pool files)

Shared Health's new visitation guidelines allow fully vaccinated care home residents to have up to two fully vaccinated visitors in their suite as of Monday. Outdoor get-togethers with fully vaccinated visitors can include up to four guests.

But before a resident can see guests, visitors must prove they received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to the visit.

In its guidelines to operators, Shared Health said acceptable proof includes the QR code issued to people who request the province’s secure immunization card (either the digital version or a print-off of the code), a hard copy of the immunization card, or by showing their COVID-19 vaccination record through the Shared Health online results portal, or printing off that record.

But without the companion application to verify the QR code on immunization cards, care homes and hospitals run the risk of accepting a phony copy of either the digital or plastic card as proof of immunization. For other vaccination records, Shared Health has told care home operators to confirm the immunization record against photo identification of the visitor.

"Operators want this to be as simple as possible. It can’t be complicated because it’s another added task," said Julie Turenne-Maynard, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly.

"Right now, nobody has the scanners. It's still a work in progress where people are trying to figure out who is going to be at the door to monitor all this."

Care home operators have yet to be given access to the mobile application capable of verifying immunity certificates and QR codes issued by the provincial government to Manitobans who have been fully vaccinated.  (Kevin King / Pool files)</p>

Care home operators have yet to be given access to the mobile application capable of verifying immunity certificates and QR codes issued by the provincial government to Manitobans who have been fully vaccinated. (Kevin King / Pool files)

A spokesman for the province’s COVID-19 vaccine task force said the verification app will be piloted at a "few locations in the coming days," and is currently with app store providers for review, which is a final phase before release to the public.

The application has been developed in-house by the provincial government, with support from contractors, the province said.

"We expect this review will be concluded shortly and the app will be available in the coming weeks. We will update Manitobans as soon as the app is available as part of future reopening announcements," the spokesman said.

"In the meantime, individuals who are fully vaccinated can show their immunization card. Health care settings are also working on other mechanisms to support safe visits until this type of app becomes available."

Both Heppner and Turenne-Maynard said personal care home operators are concerned about the risks associated with opening the door to general visitors, even those who are fully vaccinated, particularly in light of the more infectious Delta (B.1.617.2) coronavirus variant.

At The Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, an 84-bed facility in Fort Rouge, Heppner said they will only accommodate visits outdoors or in designated common areas, including their visitation pod, due to the number of residents who have shared rooms.

Operators want this to be as simple as possible, says Julie Turenne-Maynard, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Operators want this to be as simple as possible, says Julie Turenne-Maynard, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"We have to be so cautious until we have that 100 per cent vaccination rate," Heppner said. "With all various types of variants out there… we just do not want to experience having to go through our personal care home."

It is expected care-home operators will implement new visitation policies based on their ability to accommodate visitors, to tolerate risk, and to dedicate the resources needed to confirm vaccination status and screen people at the door. Some homes may choose to stick with the status quo, Turenne-Maynard said.

"If you add two general visitors that can come in and you’ve got 300 rooms, that multiplication factor makes it so that the personal care home has way more people in it and could be cause for concern," she said.

Manitoba promises mobile app

The Manitoba government has promised to launch a mobile application that will be capable of authenticating digital immunization certificates and cards issued to fully vaccinated Manitobans.

Fourteen days after a Manitoban is fully vaccinated, they can request a "secure immunization card" from the provincial government at this site or by calling 1-800-392-1207.

By using the online option, Manitobans can enter their personal health information and immediately access a landing page that shows their first and last name and a unique QR code (which can be saved to a phone or printed).

The Manitoba government has promised to launch a mobile application that will be capable of authenticating digital immunization certificates and cards issued to fully vaccinated Manitobans.

Fourteen days after a Manitoban is fully vaccinated, they can request a "secure immunization card" from the provincial government by going to immunizationcard.manitoba.ca or by calling 1-800-392-1207.

By using the online option, Manitobans can enter their personal health information and immediately access a landing page that shows their first and last name and a unique QR code (which can be saved to a phone or printed).

For those Manitobans who request a hard copy of the immunization certificate, they will receive a wallet-sized card that has their first and last name and the unique QR code.

In order to confirm the immunization card is legitimate, a third party, such as a personal care home operator, will be able to download a mobile application to scan the QR code.

It is expected the application will check the QR code against a provincial list of codes to confirm its legitimacy. The app will display the name of the person (to check against photo identification) and a checkmark to indicate they are fully vaccinated.

The application has been developed by the provincial government, with support from contractors as required, but is not yet available for download from app stores.

"There are a lot of people who are happy, especially residents’ family members, that the province has gone this way — but it is concerning for the operators because of the possibility of outbreak and all that extra work that is required."

Essential family caregivers will continue to be able to go to personal care homes without having to present proof of immunization.

A spokesman for Shared Health said that general visitation guidelines for hospitals and acute-care facilities will also take into account vaccination status as of Monday.

"The launch date may vary by individual site and/or health region, with some going live Monday and others ramping up later in the week," the spokesman said in a statement.

General visitation for patients who are suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 is not permitted. Shared Health said vaccination status of essential care partners at hospitals (pediatrics, labour and delivery, and assisting with consent and decision making, for example) or patients is not a consideration.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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