Ontario shortens COVID isolation time, restricts PCR testing

Vaccinated people can now isolate for five days instead of 10, while PCR testing will be restricted to high-risk individuals

Ontario has announced new measures to control the spread of COVID-19 and the surging Omicron variant. The province reported 13,807 new COVID cases Thursday, the highest single-day number of the pandemic – though the number of positive cases is likely higher.

In a press conference this afternoon, chief medical officer of health Kieran Moore said he knows the number sounds “overwhelming” but that the number will likely continue to grow. That said, the number of hospitalizations is not surging at the same rapid pace. Moore credited that to increased vaccination and the nature of Omicron, which studies are saying is less severe than other variants though much more transmissible. Risk of hospitalization or death, he said, is 54 per cent less for Omicron vs. Delta.

PCR testing restricted for high-risk people

Moore announced a new COVID testing strategy. Beginning tomorrow, December 31, publically funded PCR testing will only be available for people who are symptomatic and who are vulnerable or at risk, or who work in high-risk settings.

There will be no testing for asymptomatic people, and those with mild symptoms and positive rapid tests will no longer need to get a PCR test.

“We must protect this limited resource for those who need it most,” Moore said. That will mean the daily case counts will not reflect the true number of people who are positive for COVID-19.

If you have symptoms but do not have access to a PCR or rapid test, Moore said, you should assume you have COVID and isolate. Ontario has also followed suit with the United States and lowered the isolation time from 10 days to five for fully vaccinated people and their close contacts, though measures like masking and physical distancing must also be followed. People with COVID will be eligible to come out of isolation after five days if they are asymptomatic for at least 24 hours. Those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated will still have to isolate for 10 days.

“The key message is simple,” he said. “If you’re sick, stay home.”

The province is also now rolling out fourth doses of mRNA vaccines for certain people. Effective immediately, residents of long-term care, retirement homes and older adults in congregant settings will be eligible for a fourth dose if it’s been three months since their last dose.

The reopening of schools has also been delayed by two days to Wednesday, January 5. The province has installed extra HEPA units and measures for better air flow, N95 masks for teachers and more rapid tests for students.

New restrictions for sports, music, theatre and restaurants

Effective tomorrow, December 31, indoor venues like sports arenas, concert venues and theatres will be limited to 1,000 max in addition to the current 50 per cent capacity. That includes pro sports teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. Food and drink is also prohibited, and masks are required at all times.

Moore said he hopes that 2022 will be a year when we can get control of the virus.

With Christmas now past and New Year’s Eve coming up, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) announced increased enforcement for public health restrictions on December 31. Enforcement officers will be out at bars and restaurants to ensure they are complying with the requirements, which include 50 per cent capacity, last call for alcohol at 10 pm and a closing curfew of 11 pm.

“As the countdown to New Year’s Eve approaches, anyone considering heading out to a bar or a restaurant should be aware of all public health measures in place, and not give establishment staff a difficult time for enforcing them,” said AGCO registrar and CEO Tom Mungham in a release.


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