With Omicron poised to take over, here's what you should keep in mind

·4 min read
People line up for vaccine doses at the Minto Sportsplex at the University of Ottawa on Dec. 16, 2021. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
People line up for vaccine doses at the Minto Sportsplex at the University of Ottawa on Dec. 16, 2021. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

The rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 is causing many people to scramble to update their holiday plans.

The federal government said Canadian citizens and permanent residents are no longer exempt from PCR testing for short trips across the U.S. border on Friday — an addendum to its announcement earlier this week advising against non-essential international travel.

The Ontario government and Ottawa Public Health, meanwhile, are juggling resources to get more booster shots in arms. Starting Monday anyone 18 and over can book their booster shot, three months after their second dose.

Given all the changes, keeping things straight can be a bit confusing. So with the holidays fast approaching, here's the latest guidance on testing and restrictions in Ottawa.

How do I get a free rapid test?

While many students in Ottawa were sent home with free rapid tests before the holiday break, those without kids in school have found the kits harder to come by.

On Friday, seven LCBO locations received test kits from the province, but Premier Doug Ford said the kits "disappeared like rapid fire" across Ontario.

Ottawa Public Health said 10 locations in the city will be getting deliveries of free rapid tests on Tuesday, but the agency has not indicated where those locations are.

They will, however, be in addition to Friday's LCBO locations.

WATCH | How to use a take home COVID-19 test

What do I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

OPH says it's already behind on contact tracing because of the rising case count. It's asking people who test positive to self-isolate immediately and to reach out to their close contacts themselves.

The health unit says it will still contact you if you test positive. If you do, you should isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or from the date of the positive test if you're asymptomatic.

Household members should stay in a separate room from someone who's tested positive or contact public health for information on staying in an isolation centre.

For more information on the centres, call 613-580-2424 ext. 25890 or email OPHisolationcentre@ottawa.ca.

When should I get tested?

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, OPH says you shouldn't wait to see if symptoms improve but instead book a COVID-19 test immediately and isolate until you have your results, even if you are vaccinated.

With Omicron, those symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, cough, a sore throat and a runny nose.

If a close contact tells you they've tested positive, book a COVID-19 test immediately — again, even if you're fully vaccinated. Because of the backlog in contact tracing, do not wait for public health to contact you.

OPH has created a new page where it lists community COVID-19 exposures so the public can more easily keep track.

Where can I get tested?

Public health runs several testing sites across the city. You can visit OPH's testing website for pop-up locations, holiday hours and appointment bookings.

Starting Monday, the Centretown, Sandy Hill and Somerset West community health centres will pause COVID-19 testing services so that staff can be redeployed to support the province's mass vaccination campaign.

Several Ottawa pharmacies also have tests available for purchase. They can be found on Ontario's website.

WATCH | Ottawa Public Health says number of new cases is 'on the worst possible curve' as the holidays approach

What are the restrictions?

Both Ontario and Ottawa tightened restrictions on Friday, and while there is a lot of similarity in the new rules, they're not exactly the same.

When they appear to be in conflict, the stricter of the two rules is what stands, OPH said.

For example, Ontario dropped the limit of people permitted at one table at a restaurant to 10 people, while Etches called for six per table. So in Ottawa, six will be the rule.

Ontario's new restrictions come into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday. Indoor social gathering limits will be reduced from 25 people to 10, and outdoor gatherings are being reduced from 100 people to 25.

The combined rules mean that capacity limits will drop to 50 per cent for many Ottawa businesses, including:

  • Restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments.

  • Malls and retailers, including grocery stores and pharmacies.

  • Convention centres and meeting or event spaces.

  • Personal care services like barbershops, salons and tattoo parlours.

  • Gyms.

  • Indoor recreational amenities, fairs and festivals.

  • Tour and guide services.

  • Strip clubs.

  • Indoor sports, plus indoor clubhouses affiliated with outdoor recreation facilities.

  • Concert venues, theatres and cinemas.

  • Museums, galleries and similar attractions.

  • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.

  • Faith-based organizations and places of worship.

You can read more about Ontario's rules here and Ottawa's rules here.

The rules are legally binding under the Reopening Ontario Act. Bylaw officers will be ready to enforce the restrictions Monday, city officials said.

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