Ontario updates COVID-19 testing guidance; cuts isolation period from 10 to 5 days for fully vaccinated residents
Published Thursday, December 30, 2021 7:35AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 30, 2021 3:11PM EST
Ontario is updating its COVID-19 testing requirements and cutting the isolation period from 10 to five days for fully vaccinated residents, while also limiting publicly-funded tests to high-risk individuals only.
On Thursday, Ontario’s top doctor announced an update to the province’s testing and isolation guidance amid record-high cases counts due to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
Beginning on Friday, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests offered by the province will only be available for high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or at risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, instead of being widely available to anyone looking for a test.
Groups who will be able to receive PCR tests include workers and residents in the highest-risk settings, those experiencing homelessness, Indigenous communities, contacts identified in an outbreak setting, and those who are seeking care in a hospital emergency room.
Members of the general public who are experiencing symptoms are being asked not to seek testing and to assume that they have the virus and self-isolate at home.
“This updated eligibility will ensure that those that have the highest risk of severe outcomes, and those caring for them, have timely access to test results,” Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said in a COVID-19 update Thursday afternoon.
“This we recognize reflects some significant changes from our previous COVID testing strategy, which meant that anyone with symptoms could receive a PCR test. But the Omicron variant is rapidly spreading and we must preserve these resources for those who need them the most,” he added.
Moore also said that people with a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer be required to get a confirmatory PCR test.
Rapid tests are also in limited supply across the province and will be reserved for health-care and high-risk settings, Moore said.
“This means that if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are not eligible for a PCR test, and do not have access to a rapid antigen test, you should assume that you have COVID-19 and isolate according to our revised guidelines,” Moore said.
It has been nearly impossible to book timely PCR tests lately with many testing locations reportedly offering appointments in early January at the earliest due to unprecedented demand.
On Thursday, the province logged 13,807 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day tally ever reported in the pandemic.
However, Public Health Ontario said the case count is an underestimate due to the backlog of tests and should be “interpreted with caution.”
ISOLATION PERIOD CUT FROM 10 TO 5 DAYS FOR FULLY VACCINATED, YOUNG CHILDREN
The province also announced today that it will be changing its required isolation period based on evidence that the virus is the most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
Effective immediately, fully vaccinated individuals and children under 12 years old only have to isolate for five days instead of 10 following the onset of symptoms. Their household contacts are also required to self-isolate.
However, unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and immunocompromised individuals will have to stick with the 10-day isolation period.
The change follows similar guidance released this week by the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention in the U.S.
Moore said infected Ontarians can end their isolation after five days if their symptoms are improved for at least 24 hours.
Non-household contacts are required to self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days.
Employees who work in high-risk health-care settings can return to work after 10 days from their last exposure or symptom onset but could return to work earlier to accommodate staff shortages.
“...To ensure sufficient staffing levels, workers have the opportunity to return to work after isolating for seven days based on a negative PCR test on day six, or two negative RAT (rapid antigen test) at day six and seven,” Moore said.
The province is also shifting its focus for contact tracing and will no longer be contacting all individuals who test positive for the virus.
Now, only positive cases in higher-risk settings, such as long-term care homes and retirement homes, will be contacted by public health units.
“Other individual cases will be asked to identify and inform their own close context. This means that not everyone will get a call from Public Health with guidance or next steps,” Moore said.
Sick individuals are urged to self-isolate at home and visit Ontario’s website for more information.