Ontario has officially decided to update its COVID-19 testing and isolation rules due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Following the new updates to capacity limits and back-to-school plans across the province, Ontario unveiled its new plans for who is eligible for PCR tests, what to do now if you’ve been exposed to or have COVID-19, and appropriate use of rapid antigen tests.
“Beginning tomorrow, December 31st, publicly funded PCR testing will only be available for those vulnerable individuals, including those with significant medical issues who are symptomatic or at risk of severe disease from COVID-19,” Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said in the virtual announcement.
Other eligible Ontarians include the following:
- Symptomatic Ontarians who are:
- Hospitalized, including in emergency rooms
- Patient-facing health care workers
- Staff, residents, essential care providers or visitors in a hospital or other congregate living setting
- Elementary and secondary students and education staff who received a PCR self-collection kit at school
- Outpatients for whom COVID-19 treatment is being considered
- Underhoused or homeless
- People who are from First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities and those travelling into these communities for work
- Those on admission or transfer to or from a hospital or other congregate living setting
- High-risk contacts and individuals in the context of confirmed or suspected outbreaks in high-risk settings, including hospitals and long-term care homes
- People with written prior approval for out-of-country medical services, and their one accompanying caregiver
- Asymptomatic testing in hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes, and other congregative living settings as per Ontario’s guidance
Who can access rapid antigen tests
According to the Ford government, Ontario is currently experiencing a short supply of rapid antigen tests, and as such, they are now 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 on isolation at home,” government officials said.
These tests, however, can be used to determine whether or not symptomatic individuals have COVID-19, and they are ditching the need for a PCR or rapid molecular test to confirm a positive result.
In doing so, Ontario is hoping this will keep long-term care and retirement homes, hospitals and other congregate settings as safe as possible.
What happens when you’ve been exposed to a case or test positive for COVID-19
Fully vaccinated and asymptomatic Ontarians who have been near someone with COVID-19 (and don’t live with them) are being asked to self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days after the last time they saw that person and are barred from visiting any high-risk settings or those at higher risk of illness from the virus until the time is up.
“If you test positive from a PCR, rapid molecular or a rapid antigen test and you are fully vaccinated or under 12 years of age, you must isolate for five days from the positive test result if you have no symptoms or from symptom onset and until their symptoms are improving for 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms),” government officials wrote.
Partially vaccinated, unvaccinated or immunocompromised individuals should isolate for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms or from the date of their test, whichever is sooner.
The provincial government also advises notifying your close contacts, who are considered to be anyone you were less than two metres away from for at least 15 minutes of time, without PPE such as masks, in the 48 hours before the onset of your symptoms or the date of your test, whichever came first.
What the isolation period will be like now
Fully vaccinated Ontarians and all children under 12 who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 will be required to isolate for five days.
“These individuals can end isolation after five days if their symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours, and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed,” provincial government officials said.
All Ontarians working or living in a high-risk health care setting shouldn’t go to work for 10 days, but, to ensure there are no staffing shortages, workers in these settings are allowed to go back to work earlier — after seven days of isolation — if they provide a negative PCR test or two negative rapid antigen tests from days six and seven.
Ontarians living with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must isolate for the same period of time as the person who is displaying symptoms, no matter what their vaccine status is.
Anyone who is unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised, however, will have to isolate for 10 days.
Ontario’s new COVID-19 testing and isolation periods follow the new CDC recommendations, which cut the times down to five days.
Health Canada has a robust website with all the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines and can answer any questions you may have.