Moore Announces Return to School Delay, New Testing Measures, and New Capacity Limits

On the same day that new restrictions went into effect for long-term care homes, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario unloaded a bunch of new information for the rest of the province to absorb. In brief, kids are going back to in-person school next Wednesday, not everyone will be able to be tested now, capacity limits at large indoor settings will be reduced further, and fourth doses are coming to long-term care residents

“As cases continue to rise at a rapid rate and evidence on the Omicron variant evolves, our response needs to evolve alongside other jurisdictions to ensure those living and working in our highest-risk settings are protected,” said Dr. Kieran Moore in a statement. “Ontario’s cautious approach and high vaccination rates have helped keep hospital and intensive care unit capacity stable to date. Focusing our testing and case and contact management on high-risk settings will help limit transmission, maintain critical workforces, and ensure timely access to PCR testing where it is needed the most.”

For parents, they finally got some insight on the Back to School picture after the end of the holiday break this weekend. In-person classes will now recommence on Wednesday January 5 instead of Monday, essentially to give schools extra time to prepare for the new health and safety measures announced today.

In terms of changes, 3,000 more HEPA filters will be distributed to Ontario schools, non-fit-tested N95 masks for school and childcare staff will be distributed along with new three-ply cloth masks for students, and $304 million in funding will be available for the hiring of over 2,000 new staff members. Only low-contact sports will be allowed to proceed, and PCR testing will continue for symptomatic students, while parents are being asked to rigorously screen their kids and monitor for COVID symptoms.

*The Upper Grand District School Board confirmed that they will not be offering classes – in-person or online – on Monday and Tuesday. Also, all extra-curricular activities are going to be paused for an indefinite period of time, and all schools will be required to implement daily on-site confirmation of student/staff/visitor screening prior to/upon arrival at school for at least two weeks once in-person learning resumes.

“Our staff have been working alongside Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health throughout the winter holidays to draft plans for the opening of schools to in-person learning,” said UGDSB Board Chair Linda Busuttil in a statement. “All schools will be supplied upgraded masks and PPE has been ordered, school ventilation checked, and following the government’s guidance today, staff will review and communicate procedures for safe school operations.”

In terms of testing, Dr. Moore announced that as of Friday publicly-funded PCR tests will only be done on high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including for the purposes of confirming a COVID-19 diagnosis to begin treatment, and workers and residents in the highest risk settings, as well as vulnerable populations. Also, most individuals with a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer be required or encouraged to get a confirmatory PCR or rapid molecular test.

“We cannot at present test everyone who wants one. I’m sorry we don’t have that capacity, we never actually did, nor does any country,” Moore said during a media availability Thursday afternoon. “We must preserve these resources for those who need them the most,” he said, saying the move is meant to ensure those at highest risk of severe outcomes have timely access to test results.”

The Province is also changing the rules around isolating if you have, or suspect you have, COVID-19. For the unvaccinated, partially-vaccinated or the immunocompromised, you still have to isolate for 10 days. However, fully-vaccinated adults and children under 12 will only have to isolate for five days following the growing evidence that healthy and vaccinated people are at their most infections in the two or three days after COVID symptoms develop.

Ontario is following the same guidance released by U.S. Centres for Disease Control on Tuesday, which apparently prompted Moore to delay an announced public update on Tuesday.

Next, the Government of Ontario announced that fourth doses of an mRNA vaccine will be made available to the residents of long-term care and retirement homes 84 days, or three months, after receiving their third dose. Additionally, all staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers will be mandated to get a third shot as of January 28, and the mandate will also require visitors to provide proof of a booster dose once the temporary pause on general visitors is lifted.

COVID-19 is still a problem in long-term care settings despite the strong vaccination uptake. In Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, there are now seven area institutions experiencing COVID outbreaks including Guelph General Hospital, Homewood, and the Village of Riverside Glen.

Finally, the Government of Ontario is reducing capacity limits further starting Friday. All spectator areas for sporting and rec facilities, including sporting events, plus concert venues and theatres will be reduced to 50 per cent of their usual seating capacity or 1,000 people, which ever is less.

Late on Thursday, the Guelph Storm confirmed in a statement that they will be following the new capacity limits for all games at the Sleeman Centre, but it’s not going to matter much over the next several days because the next three Storm games have been postponed; tonight’s home game against the Windsor Spitfires, Saturday’s away game at the Erie Otters, and Sunday’s Highway #7 match-up at home against the Kitchener Rangers have all be postponed due to outbreaks.

The new recommendations come on the same day that Ontario broke the record for new daily cases for the third time this week. According to Public Health Ontario, there were 13,807 new COVID cases on Thursday, and the test positivity rate has hit a record 30.5 per cent. There are currently 86,754 active cases in Ontario, and there are 200 people in provincial ICUs.

*UPDATED: December 31, 12 pm.

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