What we know so far about Ontario’s changes to its COVID-19 pandemic response

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 testing now unavailable to most Ontario residents' COVID-19 testing now unavailable to most Ontario residents
WATCH ABOVE: COVID-19 testing now unavailable to most Ontario residents. Seán O’Shea reports – Dec 30, 2021

Ontario announced a slew of changes to testing and isolation guidelines in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the Omicron variant continues to rip through the province.

Here’s what we know so far:

What changed with testing?

Previously, anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 could get a publicly funded PCR test. Now, only those on an eligibility list can get a test.

That list includes people considered at high risk of serious illness from the virus, including hospitalized patients, patients in emergency departments at the discretion of a doctor and people on admission/transfer to or from hospital or congregate living setting

Also eligible are patient-facing health-care workers and staff, residents, essential care providers and visitors in hospitals and congregate living settings, such as long-term care, retirement homes, First Nation elder care lodges, group homes, shelters, hospices, temporary foreign worker settings and correctional institutions.

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Read more: Ontario changes PCR COVID testing eligibility, isolation reduced for fully vaccinated to 5 days

Outpatients for whom COVID-19 treatment is being considered can get tested, as can people who are underhoused or homeless.

So too can symptomatic elementary and secondary students and education staff who have received a PCR self-collection kit through their school, along with people who are from First Nation, Inuit, and Metis communities and individuals travelling into those communities for work.

Click to play video: 'Provinces reduce isolation periods for vaccinated Canadians' Provinces reduce isolation periods for vaccinated Canadians
Provinces reduce isolation periods for vaccinated Canadians – Jan 1, 2022

High-risk contacts and asymptomatic people can also be tested in the context of confirmed or suspected outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as hospitals, long-term care homes and other congregate living settings and institutions, and other settings as directed by the local public health units.

The province has not said if or when testing will become available to the general public again.

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What does everyone else who is not eligible do if they have symptoms?

They must isolate for five days from the onset of symptoms if they are vaccinated or are under the age of 12. Household members must also isolate with them. Those not vaccinated with two doses and the immunocompromised must isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms.

How will the province keep track of COVID-19 if they can’t test everyone?

The provincial government did not say how it would monitor the rate of COVID-19 in the community, and did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Read more: Ontario pushes back start of school to Jan. 5, introduces more capacity limits amid COVID-19 surge

What are the symptoms that trigger isolation?

The province says symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath and decreased or lost sense of taste or smell.

They also include two or more of: runny nose or nasal congestion, headache, extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches or joint pain, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea

Should I tell close contacts if I have symptoms?

Yes. The province says a close contact is “anyone you were less than two metres away from for at least 15 minutes, or multiple shorter lengths of time, without personal protective equipment, in the 48 hours before your symptoms began or your positive test result, whichever came first.”

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How does isolation end?

The province says isolation for the vaccinated and children under 12 ends after five days only if symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours.

What do I do if a close contact has symptoms?

Those who are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms should self-monitor for 10 days after the exposure and are not to visit any high-risk settings or people who are at higher risk of getting sick, such as seniors, during that time.

Those who are not fully vaccinated or are immunocompromised must isolate for 10 days after their last exposure, whether with symptoms or without.

Read more: Omicron is less severe than Delta Ontario study suggests as COVID cases rise across Canada

What should elementary and high school students do before the return to school next week?

Students across the province went home for the two-week holiday break with one kit of five rapid antigen tests. Boards suggested students test themselves every three to four days so the final test could be just before the resumption of class.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday that more information would be coming soon on the resumption of schools next Wednesday.

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How can officials know that kids aren’t being sent back to school with COVID-19?

The province has not clarified how it will keep tabs on students’ COVID status, and didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday. It also hasn’t said whether reporting the results of rapid tests would be verified somehow, or based on the honour system.

How are daycares affected?

The province has not said whether kids or staff in daycare would have access to PCR testing, and it didn’t say what — if anything — would be done to help child-care facilities, where some kids are too young to be vaccinated.

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