Ontario is updating testing eligibility and isolation guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19 Omicron, the government announced on Thursday.
In a press conference, Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) Dr. Kieran Moore announced that the government is updating their testing and isolation guidelines in an effort protect frontline workers, vulnerable residents, first responders, and other critical workforces.
“As cases continue to rise at a rapid rate and evidence on the Omicron variant evolves, our response needs to evolve alongside other jurisdictions to ensure those living and working in our highest-risk settings are protected,” the CMOH said.
“Effective December 31, publicly-funded PCR testing will be available only for high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including for the purposes of confirming a COVID-19 diagnosis to begin treatment, and workers and residents in the highest-risk settings, as well as vulnerable populations,” the government announced, asking members of the general public with mild symptoms not to seek testing.
Additionally, individuals with a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer need to get a PCR or rapid molecular test for added confirmation.
“Focusing our testing and case and contact management on high-risk settings will help limit transmission, maintain critical workforces, and ensure timely access to PCR testing where it is needed the most. Anyone who is sick should protect their community by staying home,” Dr. Moore advised.
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Isolation period guidelines
The province is also changing the isolation period required for those who test positive for COVID-19. “Generally healthy people with COVID-19 are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop,” the government said, adding that this observation was “based on growing evidence.”
Vaccinated individuals (including children under 12) who test positive will be required to isolate for five days following the onset of their symptoms. Their household contacts will need to do the same.
“These individuals can end isolation after five days if their symptoms are improved for at least 24 hours and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed,” read the government’s guidelines. “Non-household contacts are required to self-monitor for ten days.”
But those who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or immunocompromised will be required to isolate for double that time. However, if they work or live in high-risk health care settings, they can return to work after only seven days of isolation instead of ten with a negative PCR or rapid antigen test. These will be provided by the province.
Schools in the Ontario will now open on January 5 instead of January 3 to provide the administration ample time to prepare for and apply the new measures. These include:
- Updating the COVID-19 school and child care screener ahead of the return to school on January 5 and asking students, parents and staff for rigorous screening and monitoring of symptoms.
- Providing non-fit-tested N95 masks for staff in schools and licensed child care settings as an optional alternative to medical/surgical masks, and additional supply of high-quality three-ply cloth masks that are strongly encouraged and free for students and children in January.
- Deploying an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units to school boards, building on the existing 70,000 HEPA filter units and ventilation devices already in schools.
- Continuing PCR testing eligibility for symptomatic elementary and secondary students, education staff and participating private and First Nation operated schools who have received a PCR self-collection kit through their school.
- Starting in January, temporarily permitting only low-contact indoor sports and safe extra-curricular activities.
- Updating COVID-19 reporting requirements for school boards and child care in January.
- Supporting the projected hiring of over 2,000 staff, funded by a $304 million allocation for second semester that includes additional teachers, custodians, and mental health workers.
- Further Reducing the Spread of COVID-19 in Larger Indoor Settings
Capacity limit guidelines
Effective 12:01 a.m. on Friday, December 31, Ontario will also restrict spectator capacity to 50% of the usual seating capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less, in the indoor spectator areas used for sports and fitness, concert venues, and theatres.