Saskatchewan's premier has announced less-stringent recommendations for asymptomatic people who test positive for COVID-19.
Premier Scott Moe and some provincial officials provided a COVID-19 update Thursday morning in Regina, where they announced that asymptomatic people in the province who test positive on a rapid test are no longer recommended to get a PCR test to confirm their status. Instead, the province says they should assume they have COVID-19, self-isolate and inform their contacts.
Increasing the use of rapid antigen tests in the province is supposed to help preserve PCR testing capacity for high-risk populations, the province said in a news release.
The government continues to recommend PCR tests for people who have symptoms of COVID-19, as well as those who work in health care, or long-term and personal care homes.
Changes to isolation times
In addition, the province is reducing the isolation time for asymptomatic, vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 to five days from 10.
This reduction of self-isolation time applies to results received through a rapid antigen or a PCR test, according to the province.
WATCH | Sask. shortens isolation time to 5 days for vaccinated asymptomatic people:
People who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated need to "self-isolate for 10 days from the date of test or 48 hours after your symptoms have ended, whichever is later," the province said.
The 10-day isolation rule remains in place for all residents who are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated.
People who test positive need to inform any close contacts who have been within two metres of the person for more than 15 minutes.
"Close contacts must isolate for 14 days from the date of last exposure unless they are fully vaccinated and do not have any symptoms," the province said.
"Use rapid antigen testing if asymptomatic, ideally between day five and seven of the 14-day isolation. If any symptoms develop, seek a PCR test."
No new gathering restrictions
Despite the rising tide of Omicron cases, the government won't introduce any new gathering restrictions or other new health orders.
As of Wednesday there were 66 confirmed Omicron cases and 890 suspected cases in the province.
Other provinces have introduced stricter gathering limits in recent days, but Saskatchewan has not done that. The province might take further actions in the future, said Moe, "but … not today."
Omicron "is much more contagious" than previous COVID-19 strains, according to Moe. "But it also appears to be milder."
The premier acknowledged that case numbers in the province are rising, but said hospitalization numbers have been decreasing. Without the requirement to confirm a positive self-test with a PCR test might result in some COVID-19 cases remaining unreported.
Moe said provincial officials are looking at hospitalizations and ICU admissions as key indicators.
"We will be watching those metrics in the days ahead," he said.
As of Thursday, there has been no known Omicron case in any of Saskatchewan's hospitals, according to Moe.
While Omicron is moving through the population way more quickly, people tend to get less sick than with the Delta variant, said Paul Merriman, Saskatchewan's health minister.
Schools will reopen in January normally, said Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.
People should continue to get vaccinated and pick up free rapid tests, said Moe.
"This is very much a large part of our offensive strategy as we look ahead through the next number of weeks and months," he said.
There are currently 12.6 million rapid self-tests available in the province and another four million are set to be delivered to Saskatchewan in January, according to the premier.
"We do need to learn how to live with COVID," said Moe.
"We can't lock down our communities and our community events and our businesses forever."
Recommendations for New Year's Eve
Despite no new gathering limits, people should still be cautious on New Year's Eve, according to Shahab.
He recommends that residents stick to small gatherings of family and friends ideally from a limited two or three households.
"Instead of going to multiple venues, multiple households [can] connect with each other virtually," said Shahab.
"We have been monitoring our case numbers throughout the Christmas weekend … and we are, as expected, seeing gradual and consistent increase in transmission with Omicron."
Saskatchewan will continue to see a rapid escalation of case numbers, said Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.
"Many of us, despite our best efforts, will get exposed to Omicron," he said.
"Really improving our mask use, improving … ventilation and spacing ourselves out as much as we can when we are getting together, I think will continue to be important."