P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison announced changes to isolation rules for Islanders Thursday, as the current wave of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly and cases rise.
She also announced that four people are in hospital due to COVID-19, up from three earlier in the week, with one in intensive care. Three more patients in hospital have COVID-19 but it is not the reason they were admitted.
"It's been a rough start to the new year," Morrison said at the second briefing this week.
Morrison said because Omicron has a shorter incubation period, isolation requirements will become shorter. Previously, anyone who tested positive had to isolate for 10 days — that has now been reduced to seven days. The new requirements come into effect Friday at 8 a.m.
Morrison announced 204 new cases Thursday on P.E.I. There are now 1,491 active cases on the Island, and a total of 2,288. There has been an average of 156 new cases per day over the last seven days.
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King joined Morrison at the briefing and announced 15 nurses from the Department of Veterans Affairs will help immunize Islanders at mass clinics. The province has also recruited 14 other retired public health nurses to assist in contact tracing and follow up with patients.
New self-isolation rules
Fully-vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for seven days following the onset of symptoms or a positive test if not symptomatic. They may leave isolation after seven days if they don't have symptoms or if symptoms are improving, including no fever for at least 24 hours. They should not visit high-risk settings such as long-term care of child-care centres for at least 10 days after testing positive.
Unvaccinated people who test positive must isolate for 10 days following the onset of symptoms or a positive test, whatever is shortest.
Close contacts who are fully vaccinated must isolate for at least 96 hours, or four days, after their last exposure to a person who has tested positive, and get a test on Day 4. If they don't have symptoms and have a negative test on Day 4 from a Health P.E.I. clinic they can leave isolation, then monitor for symptoms for another six days.
Wearing a good-fitting three-layer mask and wearing it properly is essential. — Dr. Heather Morrison
Close contacts who are not fully vaccinated must isolate for seven days after their last exposure to a positive case. They may leave isolation on Day 7 if they don't have symptoms and have a negative test at a Health P.E.I. clinic, then monitor for symptoms. Neither vaccinated nor unvaccinated close contacts should visit high-risk settings for 10 days from the beginning of isolation, Morrison said.
This affects all current close contacts who are in isolation, Morrison noted, so anyone who has been in isolation longer than either the 96-hour or seven-day period can leave isolation as long as they have a negative test from a Health P.E.I. clinic.
Morrison pleaded with Islanders in this situation not to "bombard" testing clinics Thursday but to wait until Friday or Saturday if possible.
She added that people without symptoms but who test positive can still spread COVID-19.
Which mask should I use?
Morrison said she has been receiving a lot of questions from Islanders about masks, which she called essential for protection.
Masks come in several types, she said: non-medical, which are three layers of tightly woven fabric including a middle layer or filter; medical- or surgical-grade masks; and respirators or N95 masks "best used by health-care workers who have been properly fitted for this type of mask and trained in how to wear them. They are not the best option for everyone in the general public to use," she said.
Consider wearing two medical-grade masks "which provides very good protection" if you are concerned about being around others who may not be masked.
"Wearing a good-fitting three-layer mask and wearing it properly is essential," she said, but won't protect you or others if they're under your nose or chin.
Testing strategy evolving
Morrison said P.E.I.'s testing strategy has evolved since the early days of the pandemic, when tests had to be sent to a lab off-Island. Now, capacity at the provincial lab has expanded tremendously.
Rapid antigen screening tests have become more important to the province's plan in recent months, she said, and P.E.I. has used a "targeted approach" to distributing these tests: priority was given first to families with children in rural areas who might not have access to provincial testing clinics, then to support long-term care centres and front-line service providers, then to all children including those in daycare and for the return to school. This approach targets those who would benefit most from rapid testing, she said.
Morrison said in January, P.E.I. is expecting to receive 600,000 rapid tests — 300,000 each from the federal government and private sources. Shipping has been confirmed so far for 268,000 of the tests. Morrison expects the federal government will send even more.
Right now, P.E.I. has 19,000 rapid tests available for home use.
Workplaces with more than 200 employees can tap into a federal program that provides rapid test kits, Morrison said, and she is optimistic a provincial program is on the way for businesses with fewer than 200 employees. Community organizations can apply to the Red Cross for rapid tests through a Health Canada-supported program.
Pregnant? Some advice
Anyone who is pregnant and contracts COVID-19 should contact the labour and delivery unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for advice on prenatal care during isolation.
People who are pregnant and a close contact of a positive case but who test negative must still isolate, Morrison said.
She said pregnant people who need care during isolation should call labour and delivery at (902) 894-2243.