The City of Ottawa shows a callous disregard for the well-being of society’s most vulnerable

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First they came for the roller bladers.  Then, they came for the dog walkers.  Now the City of Ottawa has turned a new corner: targeting those seeking to comfort loved ones in long-term care homes.

The Ottawa Citizen reported Wednesday that families are banned from visiting residents of Ottawa’s city-owned long-term care homes through windows, as has become the only permissible way to connect residents with the outside world up to now.

The city’s long-term care director, Dean Lett, said the ban is “to help ensure that physical distancing remains in place for all our residents.”

With visitors banned and many elderly not up to date on Zoom, Skype and FaceTime, these glass-separated visits have become ubiquitous across the country.

Most people saw the heart-breaking photo in the Toronto Sun of a scared mother in Pickering’s Orchard Villa with her hand on the glass peering out at her daughter.

At the time, 31 people in the home had died from COVID-19.  For the elderly, being in a nursing home with a coronavirus outbreak can be a death sentence.

To rob these people of the one form of interaction that’s still possible – and safe – is reprehensible.

For all that we don’t know about the coronavirus strain that’s wreaked havoc on the world, we do know it doesn’t travel through glass.  More than likely the virus could live on each side of the glass, but there’s no reason this couldn’t be dealt with the way grocery stores are dealing with carts between customers and how nursing homes are cleaning high-touch surfaces in general.

It seems Lett was going rogue with his directive anyway.  Ottawa Public Health’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said Thursday morning that the health unit wasn’t consulted before the ban.

“Looking through a window is not a threat,” she said.  “It can be an important source of reassurance for family members on both sides of the glass.”

My initial reaction to the story was one of concern for the people inside these homes, but Etches raises an important point about those on the outside.  Already prevented from visiting for good reason, the last thing long-term care homes want, I’m sure, are barrages of phone calls from the families of residents wanting to check up on things.  Having that face-to-face – even with a glass partition – interaction and paper notes being held up can transfer peace of mind in both directions.

Whatever the motivation for the policy, it shows a callous disregard for the well-being of society’s most vulnerable.  It’s inexcusable, and frankly makes me wonder whether Ottawa is actively working to be the most overbearing, overzealous and wankerish city in Canada with its needless regulations and nanny state prowess.

As I mentioned in a previous column, this is the city that told people not to speak to their neighbours from driveway to driveway or over a backyard fence.  (Thankfully in that case, just as in this one, Etches stepped into say that the advice bureaucrats were giving really didn’t align with actual science).

Ottawa is also the city that seems to be leading the pack when it comes to ticketing people for violating social distancing rules, with the city launching at least one blitz in which nearly four dozen tickets were issued in a weekend.

While I’ve got much more sympathy for a senior locked in a long-term care home compared to someone out for a stroll, efforts to punish both of these people come from the same place – a desire to prioritize public order over public health, even when the former does nothing to embolden the latter.

These sorts of things not only do nothing to prevent the spread of coronavirus but actually turn people against those whose advice we’re told to heed.

Normalcy is key to surviving with your sanity intact, so I have a lot of time for people who’ve found sanitary workarounds to things that otherwise would risk exposure.

Whether it’s birthday greetings being shouted from passing cars or the church in Aylmer, Ont. holding drive-in services in the parking lot, at which parishioners remain in their cars, we should be looking for more ways to safely carry on with life when we can – not fewer.

Photo Credit: CTV News

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.

More from Andrew Lawton.     @andrewlawton

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