Record COVID Cases in Quebec, Ontario Nursing Homes in Semi-Closure

Some provinces announced new measures for long-term care homes, while others reported record-breaking COVID-19 infections driven by the highly contagious variant Omicron.

Quebec reported an increase in COVID-19 cases by announcing measures that would allow certain healthcare workers to remain at work despite testing positive for the virus.

Ontario said it was temporarily pausing the entry of general visitors to long-term care homes starting Thursday, with two resident-designated caregivers exempted from the new rule.

Rod Phillips, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, said Tuesday there were 41 homes with outbreaks across the province, up from 37 the day before.

Although 93 residents and 161 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, none are hospitalized, it said.

About 84 percent of eligible residents and 43 percent of long-term care workers had received booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of last week, it said.

New measures are needed due to Omicron’s high communicability and community outreach, Phillips added.

“We must remain vigilant.”

The province registered a total of 8,825 new cases of COVID-19.

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, said the new measures have a social price for residents, but temporary restrictions are likely to be necessary at a time when community transmission is high.

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“We have to err on the side of caution as we line up our ducks because we are fighting right now,” Deonandan said. “Why risk infecting CTL if you don’t have to?”

Quebec reported 12,833 new cases and 702 hospitalizations, with 15 more deaths related to the virus.

Health Minister Christian Dube said that some health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be able to stay at work.

The decision would be made on a case-by-case basis under certain conditions and is necessary to keep the health system operational, he said.

Manitoba said Monday that the province may have to consider allowing healthcare workers who test positive to return to work if there is more strain on the system, and Ontario appeared prepared to enact similar measures.

Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney said there are no immediate plans for the province to follow Quebec’s decision.

While more health workers in the province will likely need to isolate themselves due to the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant, the situation is not as dire as in Quebec, he said.

But it could change, he noted.

Deonandan called Quebec’s move risky, but noted that staffing shortages could mean other provinces will follow suit.

Hospitals will have to ensure other ways to mitigate risk if staff are allowed to work while infected, he added.

“If you’re asymptomatic and triple-vaccinated and you use an N95 fit test and work in a HEPA-filtered setting, your risk is substantially reduced.”

Newfoundland and Labrador reported a record count of COVID-19 cases in a single day with 194 new infections.

Nova Scotia students will get an additional week of winter break as part of a COVID-19 provincial school reopening plan.

Authorities said the new start date for schools is January 10 to allow families time to monitor COVID-19 symptoms and schedule vaccination appointments. Nova Scotia reported 561 new cases.

Manitoba reported 825 new cases and five deaths.

Health experts across the country warned that COVID-19 data has been clouded by holiday delays, as well as hospitals and facilities hitting test limits. The actual case count is likely to be much higher.

The rising rate of infection has started to slow down New Years celebrations and games.

Mississauga canceled its fireworks display amid concerns that COVID-19 cases were increasing.

Defending champion United States lost a youth men’s hockey world championship game against Switzerland after two players tested positive for COVID-19. The game was scheduled to be played in Red Deer.

Ontario health officials are considering shortening the isolation and quarantine period guidelines, following similar changes made in the United States.

On Monday, US health officials reduced the recommended isolation period for Americans who contract COVID-19 from 10 to five days, and reduced the time it takes for close contacts to self-quarantine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its guidance followed the evidence that people infected with COVID-19 are most infectious two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

Deonandan highlighted some flaws in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s approach. He noted reliance on pre-Omicron data and excluded warning of a negative test at the five-day mark to ensure the person is no longer infectious.

“They are mainly focusing on the status of the symptoms and they don’t need a negative test, that’s shocking.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 28, 2021.

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