Shorter isolation, optional masking, strongly recommended vaccines: Ontario’s new approach to COVID and other illnesses


« We know that an uninterrupted in-person school routine is important for children’s social and emotional development. »

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Ontario residents will no longer have to self-isolate for five days after contracting COVID-19 and should wear masks if they ‘feel it’s right’ as part of a pragmatic approach to disease respiratory conditions announced Wednesday by the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore.

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The new guidelines represent a shift in approach from an acute pandemic approach to treating COVID-19 like other respiratory illnesses that peak in the fall and winter and can cause severe illness in some people. Critics say the approach is flawed, given the still high rate of transmission in the community and growing evidence that COVID-19 can cause long-term neurological, cardiac and systemic damage in some people, in addition to an acute illness.

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Now in Ontario, people with COVID-19 or another respiratory illness can return to school or work 24 hours after their symptoms improve, even if they still test positive. They are being asked to wear masks for 10 days after illness and to stay away from high-risk settings, but there is no mask mandate in place to enforce this, either in schools or public spaces. Some universities and other organizations have kept mask mandates in place. People at high risk are asked to self-isolate for 10 days after being sick.

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Moore said Ontario’s high vaccination rates and number of people immune to previous infections provide a high level of protection against serious illness and death, but he encouraged more people to make sure their vaccines were up to date.

Along with the new guidelines, Moore announced that booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be available for children ages 5 to 11 starting Thursday. Some parents have been anxiously awaiting this announcement since Health Canada approved recalls for young children on August 19.

Ottawa family physician Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth had planned a Jabapalooza event last weekend to give reminders to children ages 5 to 11, including those with weakened immune systems, before school starts school, but couldn’t get any doses. There are now 400 children registered for a postponed event on Labor Day Monday.

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In his first update since mid-July, Moore predicted what could be a tough fall and winter with a return of the flu in addition to COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. With the start of the school year and many people returning to work and spending more time indoors, rates of COVID-19 are already relatively high in Ontario. The seventh wave of the pandemic peaked in July, but sewage levels have plateaued and are rising slightly in parts of the province, indicating transmission remains high.

Moore encouraged people to stay home when sick, to « continue to wear a mask when it’s convenient for you » and to stay up to date with all vaccinations. In addition to boosters for children ages 5 to 11, Moore encouraged everyone to get the most up-to-date vaccination available to them. He also said he expected a vaccine variant of Omicron to be approved in Canada soon, but would first be rolled out to the most vulnerable, including residents of long-term care facilities. duration.

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The new guidelines are already being criticized as the kind of ‘let it go’ approach that has seen a spike in cases in other regions.

“Ontario is sending a mixed message to the public: one, mask up if you feel like it. On the other hand, masks are important because COVID levels are high,” Kaplan-Myrth said. « It’s not helpful to say wear a mask if it’s okay for you, because that’s not how masks work. »

Moore says he is confident the coming school year will be safe and healthy. He said the continued focus on hand hygiene, improved cleaning and air filtration, vaccination and people staying home when sick should allow schools to stay open. .

« We know that an uninterrupted in-person school routine is important for children’s social and emotional development. »

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Moore says high-quality masks will be available for teachers and students and that schools will be a « respectful and inclusive environment for students, whether they choose to wear a mask or not. » Moore said he would adopt a “mask friendly” environment in schools.

He did not rule out toughening the province’s masking guidelines if COVID-19 and flu cases spike and the hospital system is severely impacted. For now, masks remain optional in most cases, but recommended in many cases.

Moore said other provinces have already adopted the new approach to group COVID-19 with other respiratory illnesses.

« We were careful and took our time, but many other provinces have already adopted a generic approach for all respiratory viruses and a containment strategy. »

Moore also said her office is working with public health units across the province to help them close immunization gaps missed by children during the pandemic.

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