FUREY: Ontario’s COVID response evolving big time — here’s what you need to know

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“We have to pivot.”

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Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said that line more than once during his Thursday press conference.

And what a pivot it turned out to be. The province has made radical changes to some of the ways COVID-19 is being managed.

One of the biggest measures is that isolation rules have been changed to be in line with those recently announced by the U.S. CDC.

When it comes to those who have COVID-19, people who are vaccinated and children under 12 will now only have to isolate for 5 days, so long as their symptoms are over. When it comes to close contacts, most of those who are fully vaccinated now do not need to isolate at all.

However, those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated need to stay home for 10 days.

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Testing is also about to undergo huge changes. No more lineups for tests, because effective Friday publicly-funded PCR testing will only be given to high-risk persons who are symptomatic. The government is asking members of the general public who have mild symptoms to not seek testing.

One reporter asked if this then meant that the COVID-19 daily case counts would effectively become meaningless and the chief medical officer agreed, saying we need to look beyond those numbers anyway.

Rapid tests will not be widely used and instead their rollout will be focused on hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes.

“We must preserve these resources for those who need them the most,” said Dr. Moore.

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In other words, during the age of Omicron we are moving towards a system where the public is entrusted to figure out for themselves if they are sick or not and then make respectful and responsible choices to ensure they don’t make others sick.

“The key message will be simple: if you’re sick, stay home,” said Dr. Moore.

When it comes to schools, Dr. Moore was pretty adamant that they’re staying open. The Monday reopening has just been pushed back to Wednesday to allow for the rollout of a couple measures, such as providing N95 masks to those who want them and revising the student symptom screening form.

“Our children have sacrificed a lot in the past 20 months,” the province’s top doc said, as he acknowledged those pediatricians and medical voices who have been advocating for the reopening of schools.

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Another big move was the acknowledgement that Ontario’s daily reported COVID hospitalization numbers haven’t been telling the full story. Dr. Moore confirmed that about 50% of them are currently for people who aren’t actually suffering from COVID but have gone to hospital with something else, like a broken leg, and just happened to test positive for the virus.

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Hospitals will now be asked to filter these numbers out to present a more accurate count that will inevitably prove much lower.

All of these decisions were made, Dr. Moore explained, based on the fact Omicron is much more transmissible but also much milder. He said Public Health Ontario has calculated the risk of hospitalization and deaths with Omicron is 54% lower.

It just doesn’t make sense anymore to test as many people as possible and obsess over daily case counts with the way things are now.

These are big changes and this is clearly an evolution to the way we deal with COVID-19. A lot of people will embrace this approach. Some will resist it.

It’ll be curious to see how these measures all play out. But it’s clear the days of lockdowns, school closures and the micromanagement of people’s daily lives is over in Ontario.

afurey@postmedia.com

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