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Updates to testing and isolation guidelines; school start delayed two days

The province is delaying the return to school two days and updating testing and isolation guidelines in response to spikes in COVID19 cases.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health stated Thursday that focusing on 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.”

Effective Dec. 31, publicly-funded PCR testing will be available only for high-risk individuals who are symptomatic 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.

Members of the general public with mild symptoms are asked not to seek testing. In addition, most individuals with a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer be required or encouraged to get a confirmatory PCR or rapid molecular test.

Ontario is also changing the required isolation period based on growing evidence that generally healthy people with COVID-19 are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

Individuals with COVID-19 who are vaccinated, as well as children under 12, will be required to isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms. Their household contacts are also required to isolate with them. 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. Non-household contacts are required to self-monitor for 10 days.

Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised will be required to isolate for 10 days. While individuals who work or live in high-risk health care settings are recommended to return to work after 10 days from their last exposure or symptom onset or from their date of diagnosis, to ensure sufficient staffing levels workers will have the opportunity to return to work after isolating for seven days with negative PCR or rapid antigen test results, which will be provided by the province through the health care setting.

As of Dec. 20, a total of 49.6 million rapid antigen tests have been deployed since the beginning of the pandemic, with the vast majority (approximately 41 million) deployed to priority sectors, including hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes and schools.

In addition to Ontario directly procuring additional rapid tests where possible, the province is continuing to urge the federal government to make more rapid tests available to provinces as quickly as possible. The province is also evaluating the potential role of antibody testing, including an analysis of how it is used in other jurisdictions, to provide another tool in the fight against COVID-19.

In response to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, Ontario is putting in place additional health and safety measures to create more layers of protection to keep schools as safe as possible for in-person learning.

The Children’s Health Coalition – representing Ontario’s children’s hospitals, mental health agencies and rehabilitation centres – has emphasized that in-person education is critical to the mental health, development and well-being of children and youth.

Students are set to return to schools on Jan. 5, 2022 for school boards previously scheduled to return on Jan. 3 to provide schools additional time to prepare for the public health measures announced today.

The following additional measures will help ensure safer schools and protect in-person learning:
– Updating the COVID-19 school and child care screener ahead of the return to school on Jan. 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.

Effective Friday, Dec. 31 Ontario is restricting spectator capacity to 50 per cent of the usual seating capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less, in the indoor areas of the following settings:
– Spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities (e.g., sporting events);
Concert venues; and theatres.

Based on the recommendations from the Ontario Immunization Advisory Committee, effective immediately the province will be making fourth doses of mRNA vaccines available to residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings if at least three months, or 84 days, have passed since their third dose.

In response to the uniquely high-risk nature of long-term care settings for Ontario’s most vulnerable individuals, the province is also mandating third doses for all staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers by Jan. 28, 2022 for those currently eligible for a booster, and will be requiring visitors to provide proof of a booster dose once the temporary pause on general visitors is lifted.

As of Dec. 13, 2021, all staff had to be fully vaccinated to work in long-term care homes, unless they have a valid medical exemption. To date, nearly 47 per cent of eligible staff and nearly 86 per cent of eligible residents have received their third dose booster.

 

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  1. SS says:

    My main point was that cuts to health care need to be stopped, and more investment in health care made.

    I don’t for a moment dispute that there has been a historical trend to cuts by the Liberals as well as the Conservatives.

    But the Conservatives are in power now, and have been since 2018.

    No one in this area seems to want to talk about giving the NDP a chance, citing the 1993 “Social Contract Act” (AKA “Rae days”). For one thing, that was a generation and a half ago. And for another, the conditions we face now are completely incomparable on any level to 1993. I wonder how long people will cite that as a reason to avoid them. Seems like a long time already and all the names have changed some time ago.

    Regardless of which way one votes, I am suggesting a shift away from cutting, and towards investment, in health care. This may be happening in other provincial governments where there is a Conservative premier — i.e. Nova Scotia.

  2. Bruce Nicholson says:

    How quickly we forget our past. Just google “Kathleen Wynne healthcare cuts” to see what harm her government did to our province’s healthcare system. Fact is that there will never be enough funding to satisfy everyone’s wishes.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    Here is an article that I believe explains much of what is going on at Queen’s Park (not much apparently) and how the public have been forgotten by our government. Granted this is a Toronto based publication, but nonetheless, it is good to look to outside sources for another look at what is happening across Ontario. The article below is not a long one – but it is informative.

    https://nowtoronto.com/news/doug-ford-comes-out-of-hiding-to-tell-ontario-to-brace-for-impact

  4. Dave Thomas says:

    The Ontario healthcare system is at the breaking point because a segment of the population remains unvaccinated for non-medical reasons. True, the vaccinated are also being hospitalized, but ICUs will be overwhelmed by those who are the most ill – the unvaccinated. Politicians have consistently urged vaccination. This current mess isn’t the provincial government’s doing.

  5. SS says:

    The official messaging around all the recent decisions by the Province seems to be that all these restrictions are needed to avoid the healthcare system breaking under volumes.

    All signs indicate that the volumes we can expect in future are much more than in the past. To use a traffic analogy, a temporary closure of a lane on the 401 causes temporary backups and delays. But a permanent closure of a lane would have a major impact on transport, both people and goods.

    The Conservative government approach has always been to cut spending. When spending cuts are made to health care systems, it’s like closing a lane on the 401, permanently.

    Demographic patterns are stressing the system enough as it is, but with COVID as well, the present cut, cut, cut is a recipe for major problems for anyone who needs a hospital procedure of any kind.

    Either the Ford government needs to change their thinking regarding investing more in health care, or we need a change in government to a party who believes that, if we are to have a health care system that is capable of handling the future demands on it.

    I hope people can reflect on this as they get ready to cast their vote in the 2022 provincial election. Stay safe, all.

  6. Dennis Fox says:

    I don’t consider the limiting of test kits to the public nor the cancellation of reporting on daily numbers, particularly on school kids, a positive step in the fight against Omicron. To me, when you put all the pieces together, it appears that the healthcare system is at the breaking point. Where are the additional PSWs and nurses that were promised more than a year ago? After more than a year, when the horror took place at LTC homes, only now are vaccines made mandatory for staff.

    What I find to be totally unacceptable is that during this time, when parents and educators across Ontario have been waiting for direction from our provincial government – both Ford and Lecce are nowhere to be seen. Why?

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