"Oh! You look beautiful, grandma!"

Tiffany Wilson waited nearly three months to see her grandmother, who celebrated her 100th birthday just as public health officials began restricting all in-person visits to long-term care homes in Manitoba.

Now, face-to-face visits -- outdoors -- at these facilities are resuming in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In-hospital access to patients in palliative care are also starting to happen, though the number of visitors in hospital continue to be restricted.

Manitoba experienced only a single outbreak in a seniors facility. It involved just two cases and one death. It stands in sharp contrast to Ontario and Quebec, where thousands of seniors have died in care homes. 

A recent report by the Canadian Armed Forces documented “horrific” allegations of neglect, abuse and poor infection containment measures amid COVID-19 outbreaks at five Ontario homes.

Another report by the International Long-Term Care Policy Network said the residents account for up to 85 percent of all COVID-19 deaths across Canada.

"Well, it’s been absolutely tragic that the majority of the sufferers of COVID have been in residential homes for older people. And we’ve been so blessed," said Wilson.

Health authorities in Manitoba changed their pandemic protocols after seeing the virus strike other provinces. They restricted visits and put in guidelines to ensure staff only worked in one facility, as opposed to multiple care homes, as is common during normal times.

"Because we in Manitoba were able to watch and learn, I believe that was our biggest advantage in keeping our seniors safe," said Jan Legeros, the executive director of the Long-Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba.

Provincial health officials moving to ease restrictions say the latest move to allow in-person visits again is both necessary and safe.

"We all want to be able to support people in their health. Not only their physical health, but their mental and emotional health as well," Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw said recently.

Some experts say the face-to-face visits could be extended further, allowing family caregivers indoor access as well, especially in facilities experiencing staffing shortages.

"Making sure that we can make those as safe as possible, because sometimes that lack of care is more deadly if you will … than the virus itself," said Dr. Samir K Sinha, the Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network.