Quebec limits access to PCR tests, shortens COVID-19 isolation period

·3 min read

MONTREAL — The Quebec Health Department said Tuesday that members of the general public with COVID-19 symptoms will not be eligible for PCR testing and should consider themselves positive if they do not have access to self-tests.

The province will reserve PCR tests for those considered "high risk," such as symptomatic hospital patients, people who live in congregate care and people being transferred between medical facilities, Dr. Marie-France Raynault, a senior strategic medical adviser to Quebec public health, told a technical briefing.

Raynault said testing centres are overwhelmed and supply shortages are expected as demand for tests continues to rise elsewhere.

"We have a capacity of about 30,000 tests a day, and last week, for example, we had almost 60,000 tests per day and it's unsustainable," she said. "So we have to keep our capacity for the ones who are more at risk, the places at risk."

Members of the general public who have symptoms of COVID-19 are being asked to administer a rapid antigen test, Raynault said, and if one is not available, they are being asked to consider themselves positive and isolate for five days — down from the previous recommendation that people isolate for 10 days.

Raynault said the recommendation to isolate for five days applies only to those who have received two doses of vaccine or are under 12. People who isolate for five days must not have a fever for at least 24 hours, and their symptoms must be improving before they leave isolation.

She said studies have shown people are most contagious in the two days before they develop symptoms and in the two to three days after symptoms appear.

With more people being asked to isolate, maintaining the 10-day isolation period would "paralyze" society, Raynault said.

"There isn't only COVID in the life of a society," she said. "If we don't have firefighters to put out fires, if we don't have police officers to ensure security, if we don't have delivery people so there's food, if we don't have bus drivers, that is also a consideration that we take into account in public health."

The five-day isolation period does not apply to health-care workers in direct contact with patients, who must isolate for seven days before returning to work.

Raynault said Quebec has not lost control of the situation, despite a high level of community transmission, because intensive care beds remain available. She said a lower percentage of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are in intensive care than during previous waves of the pandemic.

Earlier Tuesday, Quebec reported another jump in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, as well as 21 more deaths linked to the pandemic. Health authorities said 1,592 people were in hospital with COVID-19, an increase of 196 over the previous day. The number of people in intensive care rose by four to 185.

Quebec reported 14,494 new cases of COVID-19, with 28.1 per cent of tests analyzed in the previous 24 hours coming back positive. The province also had given another 69,983 vaccine doses in the previous 24 hours.

Quebec is starting to expand booster shot eligibility to its general adult population in an effort to combat the rampant Omicron variant. Quebecers aged 55 and over could book appointments starting Tuesday, with minimum age requirements decreasing in five-year increments over the next three weeks. By Jan. 21, all adults aged 18 and over will be able to book an appointment to receive their third COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Less than 20 per cent of Quebecers aged 5 and over had received a third dose as of Monday.

The Canadian Armed Forces announced on Monday they were deploying up to 200 personnel, mostly in Montreal and nearby regions, to help speed up the provincial vaccination drive.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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