New measures put in place as Omicron spreads throughout the province

Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. (Screenshot from November 29, 2021 news conference)

Ontario’s top doctor is offering new recommendations to the provincial government as the Omicron variant is predicted to be the dominant strain in the province in the coming days.

Preliminary data shows the variant may be less severe, but each case is infecting four to eight times more people than the Delta variant, even among fully vaccinated individuals.

“I certainly hope that it is less severe but we are planning for the worst, so equal to Delta. Hoping is not a strategy,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. “We are planning to best protect our health system, even if it’s less virulent because it spreads so quickly we’re anticipating a potential impact on our health care system.”

Because of this, the Ontario government is taking steps to protect long-term care and retirement homes from the Omicron variant.

“As we continue to learn more about the Omicron variant and see its impacts on other jurisdictions around the world, it is critical we provide those at greatest risk from COVID-19 in our congregate care settings with an extra layer of protection against this new enemy,” said Dr. Moore. “By strengthening public health measures in these settings, we can ensure our most vulnerable are kept safe and shielded from the threats posed by Omicron and other variants of concern.”

New regulations coming into effect on Friday for long-term care homes include testing all staff and caregivers, regardless of vaccination status, at least twice a week.

Only people who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to visit residents indoors, and those visits will be limited to a maximum of two people per resident at a time. Outdoor visits will be limited to four.

“Our priority is to protect long-term care residents from COVID-19. Faced with rising rates of community infection and the emerging threat of the Omicron variant, we are immediately implementing further measures to protect our most vulnerable based on the best available scientific and medical advice,” said Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips. “These further measures build on the ones already taken, including mandatory vaccinations, priority for third doses and randomized testing — and will provide the best level of protection possible.”

Dr. Moore said he is advising the government on further province-wide measures and more announcements are expected by the end of the week. However, at this time he is not telling people to cancel their holiday plans.

“Ontarians have always been prudent, they’ve always been reasonable,” said Dr. Moore. “You should be doing a risk assessment based on your own personal health, your risk of having an adverse event or outcome associated with Omicron and the vaccination level of the community around you.”

He is also advising health units to treat all new cases as if they are Omicron. This will mean advising all close contacts to isolate, even if they are fully vaccinated.