ontario 5 day quarantine

Ontario shortens COVID-19 isolation period down to 5 days for the benefit of employers

What is the self-isolation time period for COVID in Ontario right now? 

It's a question many people in Canada's most-populous province are asking today as conflicting information circulates from the federal government, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and, now, the Doug Ford administration.

The short answer (as of just today) is "five days after the onset of symptoms," but only for people who are double vaccinated and kids under the age of 12 whose symptoms have been "improving" for at least 24 hours.

Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or immunocompromised must still undergo the full 10 day isolation period experts have been recommending since last week, itself down from the previous 14-day-long mandatory quarantine timeline.

The long answer includes all of the above, plus a whole bunch of context surrounding why many are leery about Ontario cutting its quar-time back to five days, like the United States has done, despite the Government of Canada confirming earlier this week that it would continue to recommend 10 days for everyone in every province.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced a host of new public health measures and restrictions on Thursday afternoon meant to mitigate against the spread of Omicron, a highly contagious but (hopefully) less-severe form of the coronavirus.

With reports of new COVID-19 cases getting higher each day (we hit a record 13,807 Thursday morning), some say the moves announced Thursday couldn't come fast enough, particularly the lowering of capacity limits at large venues and the requirement of enhanced safety measures at schools.

Other measures, however, are giving Ontarians pause — particularly the aforementioned changes to isolation as well as testing guidelines (only high-risk individuals can get PCR tests to confirm their COVID positivity from here on out. Everyone else with symptoms should just "assume" they have the virus and isolate.)

"Ontario is doing the same thing the CDC recommended doing and cutting quarantine from COVID down to 5 days," wrote one Twitter user of the move. "As someone who is just getting out from under this thing, I think this is a mistake. This is no simple flu that you get over in a few days. This thing lingers."

"Ontario has slashed the mandatory quarantine for the fully vaccinated from 10 to 5 days while also doubling the duration that Ford must spend hiding at his mom's house to avoid taking questions," joked another.

Reaction is similar to that seen in the U.S. and abroad after the CDC shortened its self-isolation period guidelines to only five days south of the border.

Many worry that economic factors are weighing more heavily on the minds of officials than public health — a hunch validated by Moore's own words during his press conference on Thursday: "It's less burdensome for an employer if you return to work after that five day period."

That's not a joke, he really did say that around the 29-minute mark.

"The Ontario government's announcement today to shorten the COVID-19 isolation time to 5 days is a reminder that our current economic system values frontline workers only for their labour, not their health," wrote one Toronto doctor on Twitter.

"When [Ford] wanted to change Ontario's slogan to 'open for business' he really wasn't kidding," commented another person.

"Forcing symptomatic individuals back to work after 5 days, allowing private companies charge $200-400 per PCR, and forcing kids back into the classroom at 13,000 new cases/day."

Wherever you stand ideologically, here's what you need to know about our provincial government's new timeline for COVID-19 quarantines:

  • Individuals who are vaccinated, as well as children under 12, who have symptoms of COVID-19 will be required to isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms. These individuals can end isolation after five days if their symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours, and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed.
  • If you test positive from a PCR, rapid molecular or a rapid antigen test and you are fully vaccinated or under 12 years of age, you must isolate for five days from the positive test result if you have no symptoms or from symptom onset and until symptoms are improving for 24 hours (48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms)
  • Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised will be required to isolate for 10 days if they have symptoms, regardless of whether or not they have tested positive for the virus.
  • Individuals who work or live in high-risk settings (hospitals, retirement homes, long-term care homes etc.) should not attend work for 10 days from their symptom onset, or from their date of diagnosis.
  • All household contacts must also isolate for the same duration as the person with symptoms, regardless of their vaccination status.
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19, the province says you should also consider informing close contacts beyond your household contacts by providing them with the link to Ontario.ca/exposed.
  • If you are exposed to a positive COVID-19 case that you do not live with, are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms, don't worry about isolating at all. Simply self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days since you last interacted with the positive case and;
  • Maintain masking, physical distancing and adherence to all other public health measures if leaving home and;
  • Do not visit any high-risk settings or individuals who may be at higher risk of illness (e.g., seniors) for 10 days from your last exposure.

"As cases continue to rise at a rapid rate and evidence on the Omicron variant evolves, our response needs to evolve alongside other jurisdictions to ensure those living and working in our highest-risk settings are protected," said Moore on Thursday.

"Anyone who is sick should protect their community by staying home."

Uh huh.

Lead photo by

Artwork by Emily May Rose, photo by Jason Cook

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