COVID-19 Omicron in Ontario: Top doctor says to 'prepare for the worst' as variant spreads in fully vaccinated people

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COVID-19 Omicron in Ontario: Top doctor says to 'prepare for the worst' as variant spreads in fully vaccinated people

Ontario's top doctor has said that "hoping is not a strategy" when it comes to the ongoing and future impact of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, as more data continues to be collected, so the province is "preparing for the worst."

"We’re seeing Omicron quickly become the dominant strain in Ontario," Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health said. "I think it’s prudent and reasonable to treat every new case going forward as Omicron."

"We know that it spreads very, very quickly so the isolation of high-risk contacts seems appropriate across Ontario at present."

Ontario reported 1,429 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and a 13 per cent increase in hospitalizations in the province. While ICU admissions remain stable, Dr. Moore indicated suspected increases linked to the Omicron variant have not been observed.

While there is still some uncertainty around the virulence of Omicron, we have good evidence that it is more transmissible than the Delta variant and it is spreading amongst fully-vaccinated individuals. Data suggests that each Omicron case is infecting four to eight times more individuals than the Delta variant and it is rapidly becoming the dominant strain in Ontario.Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health in Ontario

He added that it's expected that 100 per cent of test samples will be Omicron before the end of the month.

More restrictions in long-term care homes

These comments come as the Ontario government implements more restrictions for long-term care settings. On Dec. 17, the following measure come into effect:

  • Testing of all staff, students, volunteers, and caregivers, regardless of vaccination status, at least twice a week.

  • All visitors and support workers who provide essential services to a resident or to the facility will require a negative test upon entry, unless they had a negative test the day before.

  • Caregivers need to be fully vaccinated, unless they have a valid medical exemption or if it is a palliative end-of-life situation (a first dose by Dec. 20 and all doses are required by Feb. 21, 2022).

  • Indoor visits will be limited to a maximum of two people per resident at a time and outdoor visits are limited to up to four people.

  • Cohorting of residents for higher-risk activities, such as singing and dancing. Large social activities are discouraged.

  • Social day trips will be limited to residents who are fully vaccinated and they must be screened upon their return.

  • Overnight absences for social purposes will be suspended, regardless of the resident's vaccination status.

For seniors in retirement homes, effective Dec. 22, staff, volunteers, contractors and essential caregivers will be required to take rapid antigen tests two times per week, regardless of vaccination status. It is also "strongly encouraged" that visitors are restricted to those who are fully vaccinated.

Two women wears face masks outside of Roberta Place, a long term seniors care facility which is the site of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Barrie, Ontario, Canada January 18, 2021.  REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
Two women wears face masks outside of Roberta Place, a long term seniors care facility which is the site of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Barrie, Ontario, Canada January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

'Now is not the time to have social events'

Dr. Moore stressed that he is particularly concerned about individuals who are most vulnerable to disease, particularly seniors, individuals who are immune surpassed, people receiving cancer therapy or a transplant.

For those Ontarians, the province's chief medical officer of health stressed that now is not the time to have social interactions.

"Now is not the time to have social events, now is not the time to be going out to mass gatherings," Dr. Moore said. "If you need to go out please limit your exposure to others, have the pharmacy delivery your medications, if possible, ask a neighbour or a friend to deliver food to you."Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health

"I would avoid contact with others if you’re vulnerable to this virus at present."

While there haven't been any restrictions added for the general population, Dr. Moore did say that meetings are occurring with public health colleagues on recommending a consistent approach across Ontario with the Omicron variant present, different than the regional approach taken for the Delta variant.

Dr. Moore also indicated that he is concerned about a shortage of health and human resources as the Omicron variant spreads, adding that there may be to be a strategy to implement of daily rapid antigen testing for high-risk healthcare workers.