The Provincial Government announced additional public health measures to protect high-risk settings and the healthcare system, in response to widespread community transmission of the Omicron variant. These measures include: changes to testing and isolation guidance, delayed return to in-person learning, capacity limits for large indoor settings, and booster doses for specific groups.
Testing and Isolation Guidance
Effective December 31, 2021, publicly funded PCR testing will be available only for select groups:
- Those who are symptomatic and at high risk for severe outcomes
- Workers and residents in highest risk settings
- Those who are vulnerable
Members of the general public with mild symptoms are asked not to seek PCR testing.
Rapid antigen tests are in limited supply and are being prioritized for health care and highest risk settings. This includes rapid antigen test use for “test-to-work” in which asymptomatic staff in these sectors can return to work when they would otherwise be in isolation at home.
Those who test positive on a rapid antigen test are no longer required to seek confirmatory PCR testing or report their positive result to Public Health.
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 ten days.
Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised will be required to isolate for 10 days.
Workers in high-risk health care settings will be required to isolate for 10 days but will have the opportunity to return to work after isolating for seven days with negative test results (PCR or two rapid antigen test).
Return to In-Person Learning
Students will return to in-person learning on January 5, 2022.
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 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.
Capacity Limits for Large Indoor Settings
Effective 12:01 a.m. December 31, 2021, spectator capacity will be limited to 50% or 1,000 people in the following settings:
- Spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities (e.g., sporting events);
- Concert venues; and
Booster Doses for Specific Groups
Effective immediately, all residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings will be eligible for a fourth dose of mRNA vaccine, 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 January 28, 2022 for those currently eligible for a booster. In addition, all visitors will be required to provide proof of a booster dose once the temporary pause on general visitors is lifted.
The announcement signals a significant but necessary shift in provincial strategy to address the Omicron wave. These public health measures are needed to safeguard our healthcare capacity, protect our most vulnerable and maintain the stability of our essential workforce, including healthcare workers.