Sask. reducing COVID-19 self-isolation period for unvaccinated residents
The Government of Saskatchewan announced changes to its COVID-19 self-isolation and close contact protocols on Thursday.
The province is lowering the self-isolation period to five days for unvaccinated residents, effective Friday. Unvaccinated residents were previously required to self-isolate for 10 days.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province’s COVID-19 response “must transition” to account for the adoption of take home rapid tests and their effectiveness “against transmission.”
“The Omicron variant continues to spread resulting in high case numbers. However, a significantly lower number of cases are resulting in serious outcomes compared to previous waves,” Merriman said Thursday.
“As we learn to live with COVID, we learned to be prepared to transition our public health measures and responses.”
In a news release Thursday, the government said all residents who receive a positive COVID-19 test result – PRC or rapid antigen – will now be required to isolate for five days.
If symptomatic, residents are required to self isolate for five days from the date of test, or 24 hours after fever has resolved without the aid of fever medications, if all other symptoms have been improving for 48 hours.
Additionally, close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases will no longer be required to self-isolate, regardless of vaccination status. Confirmed close contacts are asked to self-monitor for symptoms and use rapid tests for surveillance.
The government also said parents and caregivers are no longer required to notify schools about positive test results.
The province said residents currently self isolating for 10 days due to being an unvaccinated confirmed case or close contact, may be able to shorten their self-isolation period as of noon on Friday, in accordance with the new policy.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said the province’s COVID-19 response has been an “evolutionary process,” throughout the various waves of the pandemic.
“When there’s a new disease, as COVID was, we obviously manage it based on the issues at that time, which have evolved over the last few years through original strain, Alpha strain, Delta strain, and now the Omicron strain,” Shahab said.
Other elements of the public health order, including masking in indoor public spaces and proof of vaccination, remain in effect until at least Feb. 28.
Merriman said discussions are ongoing to determine what will happen at the expiry of the current health orders.
“We’re continually looking at what’s in place now until February and we will have discussions with Dr. Shahab to see where that is,” Merriman said. “This is continually evolving. What we’re seeing is different than what we saw three weeks ago. Three weeks from now it might be very different.”
The province released information about its plans for “living with COVID,” stating that COVID-19 will be “monitored and managed similarly to other respiratory viruses,” such as influenza.
Health officials will continue to track and monitor COVID-19 cases, transmission, variants of concern, epidemiology trends of severe cases and inform the public and medical community.
Dr. Alex Wong, infectious disease specialist, thinks the province is moving too fast when it comes to reducing isolation.
“I can appreciate that everyone is tired and that we need to move forward to whatever our new normal looks like,” Wong said. “Especially with hospitalizations surging and our acute care facilities and hospitals, especially in Regina and Saskatoon, feeling a tremendous amount of pressure, I honestly just wish they could have put this off for maybe three or four weeks, until we have gotten through the worst of our serge.”
Wong said there are indicators, like the waste water research, showing Saskatchewan’s two big cities are peaking, but reiterated hospitalizations and ICU admissions lag behind that, which means those numbers are likely going to rise for a few more weeks.
He added he agrees with these changes going forward, but said now is not the right time.
“We are right in the midst of the fire right now,” Wong said. “Why couldn’t we wait just a little bit longer to try and get through all this as best as we possibly can and then emerge on the other side.”
The NDP said changes to the self-isolation requirements will increase transmission of COVID-19.
“The modelling we saw a couple weeks ago said we need to reduce mixing and reduce contacts, not increase it,” Ryan Meili, NDP leader, said. “These measures will increase the contact between people, we know that asymptomatic spread is a part of COVID-19, so we will see more spread as a result of this.”
Meili said Saskatchewan has the lowest testing rate and is likely to hit 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the next few days, adding it is not time to pretend the pandemic is over.
“You start moving past it and moving past public health measures when they are no longer required, right now there is zero evidence that’s the case,” Meili added.
When it comes to patients being transferred from Regina and Saskatoon hospitals to rural centres, Meili said that means hospitals are in a bad spot, which won’t get better with the decreased isolation time.
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