Ontario Changes COVID-19 Testing and Quarantine Rules

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced the latest changes during a Dec. 30 press conference as the province experiences surging COVID-19 cases and the spread of the Omicron variant

“Because of the rapid transmission of Omicron, many jurisdictions have had to adjust their testing strategies and Ontario is no different,” Moore said.

Effective Dec. 31, publicly funded PCR tests will only be available to high-risk persons who are symptomatic or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. This includes “workers, residents, and others in the highest risk settings such as hospitals, long term care, retirement homes, and congregate living settings.”

Moore added that most people 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 and that testing for asymptomatic individuals will no longer be conducted.

Moore attributed the changes to the provincial public health system’s lack of capacity to test everyone amid the increasing cases.

“We must preserve these resources for those who need them the most,” he said in reference to the limited supply of rapid antigen tests remaining in the province.

In addition, he advised individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 but don’t meet the new eligibility for PCR testing or have access to antigen tests to assume that they have contracted the virus and isolate themselves based on the latest guidelines that will cut the isolation period from ten days to five days for fully vaccinated adults and children under 12. This also applies to their immediate household contacts. 

Ontario’s decision to cut the isolation period in half mirrors a similar change made by U.S. federal health officials earlier this week. 

Moore said that the change to the required isolation period is based on evidence that generally healthy people with COVID-19 are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop. 

“The isolation can end after five days if symptoms are resolved or improving for at least 24 hours, and all public health and safety measures such as masking and physical distancing are followed,” he said.

However, people who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or immunocompromised will still need to isolate for 10 days should they test positive, said the provincial government in a Dec. 30 press release.

Individuals who are fully vaccinated, asymptomatic, and not cohabiting with a COVID-positive person but who have come into close contact with people who have tested positive, need not self-isolate. They are advised instead to self-monitor for symptoms and not visit any high-risk settings or vulnerable people for ten days from their last exposure.

People working or living in high-risk health care settings who experience symptoms are to stay away from work for ten days. To avoid staff shortages, they may be allowed to return to work after isolating for seven days after a negative PCR test, or two negative rapid antigen tests done on the sixth and seventh day after exposure.

The latest announcements have earned applause from the Retail Council of Canada, the largest retail industry group in the country. 

The group says labour shortages have dogged retailers throughout the pandemic but the recent sharp rise in infections has left many outlets scrambling to adjust schedules and keep their doors open. 

Michelle Wasylyshen, the industry group’s national spokesperson, said that allowing employees to return to work sooner will ensure enough staffing to maintain health and safety standards that include frequent cleaning and the enforcement of mask mandates and capacity restrictions. 

“Tests and isolation for sick or vulnerable folks rather than healthy, less vulnerable folks will help us save as many lives as possible,” he said on Twitter on Dec. 30.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report


Isaac Teo is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.

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