Alberta is reducing the mandatory isolation period for fully vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 to five days from the current 10, Health Minister Jason Copping announced Friday.
The change becomes effective Monday, Copping told a news conference.
People whose symptoms are resolving after five days of isolation will need to wear a mask when around others outside of home for another five days, Copping said.
Those who still have symptoms will have to remain in isolation.
Fully vaccinated means two doses of vaccine, or one dose of the Janssen vaccine, according to the province's COVID-19 website.
Unvaccinated people who contract COVID-19 will still be required to isolate for 10 days, Copping said.
"We are making these changes to help prevent disruptions in the Alberta workforce, especially for those who deliver services that Albertans count on," he said.
"We feel this step will help balance the need for continuity in the workforce, the well-being of Albertans, and our need to continue to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant."
Copping said Alberta's approach is in line with new direction taken in Ontario and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Exemptions in 'exceptional circumstances'
Some workers will be exempt from the isolation period in "exceptional circumstances," Copping said.
"We're providing an exception for workplaces where disruption of service for 24 hours or more would be harmful to the public and where there is no other way to continue the service, except by bringing workers back before their isolation period has ended.
"In these exceptional circumstances, additional public health measures will be required. For example, returning workers would not be allowed to remove their masks when in the same room as anyone else at any time, even if they're distanced."
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said the exemptions could apply to services or locations where a disruption could "significantly impair public health or safety," such as health-care settings or water treatment plants.
If it is necessary to bring back workers earlier than the five-day isolation period, "there will be very specific rules laid out for additional precautions and what kinds of criteria that those businesses will have to meet," she said.
Those details will be available on Monday, she said.
The new, highly contagious Omicron variant is spreading at unprecedented rates across the country, pushing Alberta to record-setting case counts and transmission rates.
On Thursday, for the second day in a row, the province broke its single-day record for reported COVID-19 cases.
Preliminary data shows 4,000 new infections were recorded, eclipsing the previous high set the day before when 2,775 COVID-19 cases were reported.
The confirmed cases do not include results from at-home rapid antigen tests, which has been the recommended testing method since Dec. 23 for most Albertans, outside of those in high-risk settings or for those who have high risk of severe outcomes.
"We do not need to document the majority of cases in order to have an effective surveillance system, and we are adjusting to the new testing approach," Hinshaw said Friday.
"We will continue to watch all of our metrics to help get a well-rounded view of Omicron in the coming days and weeks."
Across the province, the positivity rate now hovers around 30 per cent, a record high. As of Thursday, 371 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 48 in intensive care.
The variant poses a significant threat to the province's health-care system, particularly with more people being infected in a very short time, Hinshaw said.
"Even though it seems that a smaller percentage of cases are requiring acute care, we can expect that with a greater number of people infected, that will soon translate into a greater number of people in hospital. How high these numbers will get is still not known."
Hinshaw said every public place now poses an infection risk.
"We need anticipate that Omicron will be in every aspect of our society in the next several weeks," she said. "We should all anticipate that wherever we go, outside our own homes, there's somebody there who is infectious with Omicron. This is spreading farther and faster than anything we've ever seen before."
She said "trade-offs" must be found to keep infected Albertans away from the public, while at the same time maintaining essential services.
Omicron has put a return to the classroom for Alberta students in limbo.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Thursday that the winter break for kindergarten to Grade 12 will be extended to Jan. 10. Decisions on whether students will learn in class or at home have not been made yet.
The province will next update its COVID-19 reporting on Tuesday.