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Ontario limits PCR testing to high-risk individuals, delays return to school

The Ontario government has announced some changes to its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the exponential rise of the Omicron variant.

The new measures, announced on Thursday, including delaying the return to school by two days to Wednesday, January 5th, as well as limiting access to PCR testing and shortening isolation guidelines for some positive cases.

PCR testing will now only be available to symptomatic individuals who are high-risk or work in high-risk settings, including hospitalized patients; staff in hospitals and long-term care homes; the under-housed or homeless; First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals; high-risk people in outbreak settings; and symptomatic staff and students in elementary and secondary schools.

Individuals who don’t fall into a high-risk category but are symptomatic are asked to presume themselves COVID-positive and follow isolation and self-monitoring guidelines.

Additionally (and controversially), those who are vaccinated or under the age of 12 who have symptoms of COVID-19 will now only have to isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms. If symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours at the 5-day mark, isolation can be ended.

Those who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or immunocompromised and experiencing possible symptoms of COVID-19 will still be required to isolate for 10 days.

The return to school following winter break has been moved forward two days as the province works to put additional safety measures in place for an in-person return to classes.

Non-fit-tested N95 masks will be provided to school staff; however, only 3-ply cloth masks will be provided to students despite better protection against COVID-19 provided by higher quality masks.

3,000 standalone HEPA filter units will also be deployed to schools, despite there being nearly 5,000 elementary and secondary schools in Ontario.

Other measures announced by the provincial government include a capacity reduction in larger indoor settings such as sports venues, concert venues, and theatres, capping capacity at 50 per cent of usual seating or 1,000 people, whichever is less.

Read more on the Ontario website here and here.

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