Effective Monday, people in Alberta with at least two doses of vaccine who test positive for COVID-19 will only need to isolate for five days instead of 10.
Health Minister Jason Copping announced the change last week in the face of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, saying it was based on evidence that fully immunized people have shorter infectious periods.
Symptoms must be fully resolved by the end of the five-day period, otherwise people must continue to isolate.
For five days after isolation, those people will be required to wear a mask around others at all times when in public.
Unvaccinated Albertans must continue to isolate for 10 days.
Copping said it will prevent disruptions in the workforce, especially for those who deliver important services.
He said discretionary exceptions could be made for workers whose absence causes “significant public health impact.” In those instances, additional health measures would be put into place, Copping said.
Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and British Columbia have also reduced the self-isolation period to five days.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw explained the decision was based on evidence that those who are fully immunized shed virus for a shorter period of time and that “shorter isolation periods are easier to comply with.”
Hinshaw explained the more people who comply with the isolation requirements, the better it is for overall public health.
Calgary emergency room physician Dr. Joe Vipond worries the move is risky.
“It seems to be an effort to try and keep businesses going forward in a very dangerous time but there’s a real risk it could backfire as people return to work too soon and spread it amongst their well colleagues, making everyone COVID positive,” he said.
“We’re chasing our tails now with a massive exponential growth of Omicron and I worry our governments don’t have the stomach to do what’s needed to keep us safe.”
Tim Caulfield, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Alberta, said while policy may be changing, it’s important to follow the science that already exists, as well as the science that emerges as the pandemic progresses.
“We saw that happen with masks, right? Early days there was ongoing debate and then, sort of, the science started to crystalize and I think that’s going to happen with these kinds of topics also,” Caulfield told Global News Monday morning.
“So follow the rules. Yes, they’re going to continue to evolve and don’t let uncertainty get you down in 2022.”
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange also announced last week that in-person classes for kindergarten to Grade 12 students would be delayed until Jan. 10.
She said the longer break would allow school authorities to plan for a successful startup.
She said the province would also provide millions of rapid tests and medical-grade masks to school staff and students starting next Monday.
— With files from Emily Mertz and Caley Ramsay, Global News