Ontario Updates Public Health Measures as Omicron Cases Rise
The Eastern Ontario Heath Unit (EOHU) is advising the public that effective December 31st, Ontario is updating its public health measures and guidance as the number of Omicron variant COVID-19 cases across the province rapidly rises.
Changes to Testing Guidelines
In an effort to protect the province’s most vulnerable residents, Ontario is shifting its strategy and making publicly funded PCR testing only available to high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Workers and residents in the highest risk settings and other vulnerable populations will continue to have access to PCR testing.
However, members of the public who have mild symptoms and are not part of a high-risk population are being asked not to seek testing. As such, individuals with a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer have to get a PCR or rapid molecular test to confirm their COVID status. Health units will no longer perform contact tracing and case management for a positive case in a low-risk setting.
“As the pandemic continues to evolve, we must adapt our response in the way that best protects our population,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health. “Given the context of new case numbers that are increasing every day, the province and health units are shifting their focus to case and contact management in high-risk settings like hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes.”
The shift in case and contact management will allow health units to redirect some staff members towards the vaccination effort, where the need is greatest at the moment.
Changes to Isolation Period
Ontario is also changing the isolation period for people who contract COVID-19 as research is demonstrating that healthy individuals who contract the virus are most infectious in the two days before they start having symptoms and the three days afterwards.
Fully vaccinated individuals who have COVID-19, as well as children under 12, must isolate for 5 days from the onset of symptoms. Their household members must also isolate for 5 days. Contacts from outside the affected household must self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days.
Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or immunocompromised must isolate for 10 days. Staff who work in high-risk health care settings can return to work after 10 days from their date of diagnosis, or after 7 days with a negative PCR or rapid antigen test result. These measures were brought in to ensure adequate staffing levels in all settings. The tests will be provided by the province through the healthcare setting.
Fourth Doses for Long-Term Care Residents
Effective immediately, Ontario will make fourth doses of mRNA vaccines available to all residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings. In order for residents to receive their fourth dose, a minimum of three months or 84 days must have passed since their third dose.
The province is also mandating third doses for all staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers in congregate care settings. Those currently eligible for a booster must receive their third dose by January 28, 2022. When general visitors will be allowed in these settings again, they too will have to provide proof of a booster dose.
Return to Class After Winter Break
In order to bring in additional measures to ensure the safety of students in Ontario’s schools, the province is delaying the return to school by two days. Students who were set to return on January 3rd will therefore head back to school on January 5th. Amongst other measures, the province updated the COVID-19 school and child care screener and is asking parents and staff to rigorously screen and monitor for symptoms. Staff in schools and licensed child care settings will also be provided with N95 masks, and students will be provided with three-ply cloth masks.
Ontario is also sending an additional 3,000 HEPA filter units to schools and will continue to offer PCR testing to symptomatic elementary and secondary students, as well as education staff.
Limiting the Spread of COVID-19 in Large Indoor Settings
As of December 31, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., Ontario is restricting spectator capacity in large indoor settings to 50 per cent, or 1,000, whichever is less. The new limit will apply to spectator areas of sports and recreational fitness activities, concert venues and theatres.
For more information about Ontario’s updated public health measures and guidance, check out the EOHU’s website at www.EOHU.ca/coronavirus.