With Ontario facing a fourth wave driven by delta forms of COVID-19, the provincial government has issued guidelines about testing and self-isolation for those who may be exposed to the virus — with rules dependent on vaccination status.
Although the new rules are complex, they contain one core theme: vaccinated Ontarians will be subject to fewer restrictions and more lenient isolation requirements than unvaccinated people.
Documents shared by the county on Wednesday also explain how potential COVID-19 exposures in schools will be managed this year. County spokeswoman Alexandra Hellkin said in a statement that the government was taking a “balanced and prudent approach” to ensuring that schools remain open for personalized learning throughout the entire school year.
“The Chief Medical Officer of Health and Health Experts will continue to review the data and advise the government on appropriate and effective measures needed to protect the health and safety of Ontarians and keep our children in the classroom,” she said.
All new county guidelines can be found at the bottom of this story.
The county has put guidelines for what people should do if they are exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in this flow chart, which breaks things down for those vaccinated and unvaccinated:
The province says Ontarians who have been vaccinated, asymptomatic and had a “probably” confirmed case (depending on their public health unit) are not required to self-isolate, but should get tested. These people should also self-monitor for any symptoms for 10 days, as well as follow public health measures such as wearing masks outside their homes.
People in this category are also required to self-isolate and get tested if they develop symptoms. Their family members do not need to isolate themselves.
If a vaccinated person is exposed to a confirmed case and develops symptoms, they are required to isolate themselves and be tested immediately. The county says if that test comes back positive, they should self-isolate for 10 days. If the test is negative, they can stop self-isolating once these symptoms have improved for at least a day, or two days for gastrointestinal symptoms.
In this category, members of the same family do not need to self-isolate if they have been vaccinated. If they don’t have their shots, they will need to self-isolate until the exposed person gets a negative test result.
Rules for unvaccinated people
For unvaccinated people who are dealing with a confirmed case, the rules are different.
In this case, the unvaccinated person must self-isolate for 10 days and be tested immediately. If the test is negative, a second test is recommended on or after the seventh day of this self-isolation period. The county says that a person in this category should self-isolate for this period after their last exposure, even if they test negative.
If an infected person does not develop any symptoms, family members who have been fully vaccinated will not need to self-isolate. But if they are not vaccinated, they must stay at home except for “essential reasons” such as work or school during the period of isolation of the infected person.
If a person who has been exposed and has not been vaccinated develops symptoms, they should improve for at least a day (or 48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms) before isolation ends.
Again, fully vaccinated family members in this situation do not have to self-isolate, but people who do not have their shots should self-isolate while the exposed person waits for test results, and then stay home except for essential causes during the exposure person’s isolation period.
What about schools?
The county has also issued specific guidance on how local public health units should handle confirmed cases and school outbreaks.
For this purpose, it has defined a school or childcare outbreak as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students, staff or other visitors, where at least one case can be associated with the school or facility, including related transportation such as The bus.
The county says that measures to deal with cases or outbreaks will largely be handled by the local public health unit, and can be increased or decreased depending on the situation and specific risks.
Examples of the types of steps health units could take in the event of a school outbreak include specific signage, further restriction of visitors, reduced movement of staff between cohorts, and limiting student activities to their own groups.
A full list of the measures available in the document can be found at the bottom of this story.
The county said it expects cases of complete school dismissals due to COVID-19 cases to be rare.
The probability of complete school expulsion is expected to be exceptionally low in schools with high immunization coverage among students,” the documents say, without referring to the fact that children under 12 are not currently eligible for vaccination in Canada.
However, public health units can close schools if outbreak conditions warrant such a move.
As for how schools should treat symptomatic individuals and their contacts, it depends on how that individual has been exposed and the vaccination status of their potential contacts.
The county said students and staff who have shown symptoms of COVID-19 should undergo testing and isolation while they await results.
Unless that person is considered a probable case or tests positive, “separation and isolation of asymptomatic persons at school is generally not recommended.”
If a person shows negative symptoms, or their illness has been diagnosed as something other than COVID-19, they can return to school after symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours. If their symptoms are gastrointestinal, they should wait at least 48 hours before returning.
See the boycott guidelines for yourself here: