Omicron threat leads to boost in Ontario's safety measures

Long-term care homes to increase testing; other front-line, high-risk workers expected to see changes

Omicron threat leads to boost in Ontario's safety measures

Ontario is enhancing COVID-related safety measures around long-term care homes in response to the potential threat from the Omicron variant — and further changes should be anticipated for other high-risk, front-line workers.

“While there’s still some uncertainty around the virulence of Omicron, we have good evidence that it is more transmissible than the Delta variant and it is spreading among fully vaccinated individuals,” says Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health of Ontario.

“Data suggests that each Omicron case is infecting four to eight times more individuals than the Delta variant and it is rapidly becoming the dominant strain in Ontario.”

The Omicron variant represents about 30 per cent of all new cases in the province and has a doubling time of every three days, according to Ontario's Science Advisory Table.

Several measures at long-term care homes will go into effect on Dec. 17, 2021, including:

  • the testing of all staff, students, volunteers, and caregivers, regardless of vaccination status, at least twice a week prior to entry into the home
  • requiring a negative test upon entry to a long-term care home for all visitors and support workers who provide essential services to a resident or to the facility, unless they had a negative test the day before
  • requiring caregivers to be fully vaccinated, unless they have a valid medical exemption or are attending to a resident in a palliative end-of-life situation

To further protect retirement home residents and staff, Ontario is also enhancing its COVID-19 policies in retirement homes as of Dec. 22, 2021, including:

  • requiring rapid antigen testing for staff, volunteers, contractors and essential caregivers, regardless of vaccination status, two times per week prior to entry into the home as part of enhanced active screening practices
  • requiring rapid antigen testing for support workers entering a retirement home, regardless of vaccination status.

Just today, the City of Toronto announced it was revising its previously announced plans to get employees back to the office.

This follows advice by Moore that employers in all industries in the province should have employees work from home whenever possible.

In the U.S., employers such as Google and Ford have also announced suspensions to their return to the office plans.

Safety measures for other front-line workers

Ontarians should prepare for additional testing for other high-risk essential workers, says Moore. To that end, the province is working to increase the availability of rapid antigen testing, especially for high-risk healthcare workers.

“Hence the reason we’re trying to procure further rapid antigen testing beyond the 45.8 million that have already been deployed across Ontario, the 11 million that have been put in the hands of parents and students in the next few days, and the two million that we’re using for popup testing in high-risk regions,” he says.

“We’re preparing to make sure that our essential workers are maintaining presenteeism through, number one, getting their third doses if eligible, and, secondly, having a backup testing strategy for them as well.”

The province also recently announced it would be delaying the lifting of proof of vaccination requirements beyond Jan. 17, 2022 and that effective Jan. 4, 2022, Ontario will begin requiring the use of the enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code and the Verify Ontario app in settings where proof of vaccination is required.

And the province continues to roll out booster doses to eligible Ontarians, with people aged 50 and over eligible to receive their booster dose appointment roughly six months have passed after their second dose. As of Jan. 4, 2022, individuals aged 18 and over will be eligible to schedule their booster dose appointment.

The province is also increasing rapid antigen testing for high-risk congregate settings such as long-term care homes and school.

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