TORONTO — The province has announced changes to its COVID-19 testing and isolation guidelines.
The changes, announced on Dec. 30 by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, come into effect on Dec. 31.
Moore said these changes are in line with what other jurisdictions have recently implemented to ensure publicly funded testing and case and contact management resources are available for the highest-risk settings and to protect the most vulnerable and help keep critical services running.
Beginning Friday, publicly-funded PCR testing will only be available for high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including 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. A full list of eligible individuals can be found at news.ontario.ca.
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 reducing the required isolation period from 10 days to five for vaccinated individuals, citing 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 only be required to isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms, as long as their symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours prior and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed. Their household contacts will also be required to isolate with them.
Non-household contacts are required to self-monitor for 10 days.
Individuals who are not fully vaccinated or are immunocompromised will still be required to isolate for 10 days.
Individuals who work or live in high-risk health care settings will now have the opportunity to return to work after isolating for seven days with negative PCR or rapid antigen test results.
Students return to in-person learning on Jan. 5
Ontario students will get a couple extra days of Christmas break.
Moore announced on Thursday that students will return to in-person learning on Jan. 5 – two days later than originally scheduled.
He says these extra days will be used to “provide schools additional time to prepare for the public health measures announced today.”
Those measures include:
- 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; and
- 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.
Offering fourth doses to long-term care residents
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, lodges and other congregate care settings if at least three months, or 84 days, have passed since their third dose.
The province is also mandating third doses for all staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers by Jan. 28 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, 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% of eligible residents have received their third dose booster.