The Ontario government is changing criteria around who is eligible to get a PCR test to detect COVID-19, and has shortened isolation times for those with symptoms who are fully vaccinated.
As of Dec. 31, PCR testing is only recommended for symptomatic people who are hospitalized patients, in long-term care or retirement homes, health-care workers, First Nations, or students and staff, among other high-risk groups.
It is no longer recommended that asymptomatic individuals get a PCR test, except for those in high-risk settings.
“Members of the general public with mild symptoms are asked not to seek testing,” the Ontario government said Thursday.
The move comes as capacity for PCR testing has become strained across the province with many unable to book a PCR test or get test results back in a timely manner.
In addition, those who test positive on a rapid antigen test will no longer need to confirm they have COVID-19 through a PCR test.
The isolation period is also being reduced for those who are fully vaccinated, and children under 12 years old, from 10 days to five days following the onset of symptoms, a move the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took earlier this week.
“These individuals can end isolation after five days if their symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours, and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed,” the government said.
However, people who are unvaccinated or are immunocompromised will be required to isolate for the previous recommendation of 10 days.
“We now very much are aware that we have widespread community activity,” Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said in an update on Thursday in response to scaling back on PCR testing for the wider population.
“If you look at percentage of tests that are positive, it’s almost a third to 40 per cent of the tests that are positive across Ontario, and well over 90 per cent are Omicron. Additional knowledge through that surveillance is not necessary as we can anticipate for the next six to eight weeks that we will have widespread community activity of the Omicron variant across Ontario.”
Moore said additional surveillance would be provided through hospitals with those who are admitted with COVID-19-related pneumonia. He added that a focus will be on COVID data through hospitalizations and ICUs rather than just case numbers.
“Our focus is really on protecting the health-care system, protecting the long-term care sector, learning from the last 20 months in terms of protecting the most vulnerable citizens that we have,” Moore said. “And that is our key focus.
“I do realize that people had been monitoring the total daily test positive count, rigorously, but we have to pivot. We know there is ongoing community activity across Ontario, we know we will have high transmission risk.”
Moore also said to seek a PCR test to go and socialize is “not an appropriate use at this time. You really should be using it only if you develop symptoms.”
“If we had the capacity, we would offer the testing. This is a finite capacity. I don’t think anywhere in the world expected the transmissibility of Omicron,” Moore said in response to a Global News question about no longer being to log and report all possible COVID infections.
“If we had ability to test everyone, 14.7 million people, whenever they got ill we would have done so. But no country around the globe has that capacity. So this is not a coverup. This is basic premise of a limited finite resource that we have to use,” Moore continued. “I don’t think anyone is being fooled that we’re not having widespread community activity across Ontario.”
A full list of those eligible to get a PCR test can be found here.
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