As we head into fall and the beginning of the respiratory illness season, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and some precautions we can all take to prevent its spread, as well as the spread of other respiratory illnesses throughout the fall and winter.
Updated COVID-19 case and contact management
As you’re likely aware, Ontario’s Ministry of Health recently updated its guidelines for individuals who either develop COVID-19 symptoms, test positive for COVID-19, or are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
Guidelines for individuals with symptoms
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses such as the cold and flu, the province is now instructing individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms to stay home while sick, regardless of testing results. Once their symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (if they have respiratory symptoms) or 48 hours (if they have gastro-intestinal symptoms), they can head out again, as long as they continue to wear a mask for 10 days from the time they got sick. They must also avoid non-essential visits to vulnerable individuals and highest-risk settings such as long-term care homes for 10 days.
Guidelines for individuals with no symptoms
Individuals who test positive for COVID-19, but don’t have any symptoms are no longer required to isolate. However, they must wear a mask when out in public and avoid vulnerable individuals and high-risk settings for 10 days from the time they test positive. If the situation changes and they develop symptoms, they must isolate immediately.
Guidelines for close contacts
Individuals who are exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 are no longer required to isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They must however wear a mask for 10 days from last exposure and avoid non-essential visits to vulnerable individuals and high-risk settings. Once again, they must isolate immediately if symptoms develop.
Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines
Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines remains the best way to protect yourself and others from serious illness caused by COVID-19. The greater the number of people who stay up to date, the more we can prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities and protect the most vulnerable, such as individuals in long-term care homes and retirement homes.
Combined with other precautionary measures like screening for symptoms every day, washing your hands frequently, and staying home when ill, the vaccines also help reduce the burden on our healthcare system and protect our most vulnerable.
The bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine
Bivalent vaccines provide protection against the original strain of COVID-19 as well as the Omicron BA.1 variant. Preliminary study results indicate that bivalent vaccines will also provide protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. The bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine is now available for all Ontarians aged 18 and up.
COVID-19 vaccines for children
I also want to remind parents that getting their children vaccinated against COVID-19 can help prevent serious illness and long COVID, especially amongst the most vulnerable. A primary COVID-19 vaccine series is available for children between the ages of 6 months to 4 years old, and children between the ages of 5 to 11 now have access to a third-dose booster.
Looking forward with optimism
Finally, I want to thank all of you for doing your part to keep your loved ones and our communities safe throughout the pandemic. Without a doubt, it has been a challenging time. However, the situation today is much different than it was in early 2020. As a result of the vaccines and natural infections, we now have greater community immunity. We also have access to antiviral treatments to prevent severe illness in vulnerable individuals who contract COVID-19. Although the pandemic is not yet over, I am glad to say that with these layers of protection and the precautionary measures mentioned above, we are well equipped to continue on our path towards a more normal life.
Take care, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, MD, CM, MPH, FRCP(C), CCPE
Medical Officer of Health
Eastern Ontario Health Unit