OPINION: Experts debate over Ontario’s new isolation policy

Feb 18, 2022 | OP-ED, Opinion

Experts are concerned over the Ontario government’s Dec. 31, 2021, decision to reduce the COVID isolation period to five days from 10.

The province made the decision days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced shortening the recommended isolation and quarantine periods for people infected with COVID-19 in the U.S.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, says the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has caused significant staff shortages and disruption to daily life, and the shortened isolation period aims to mitigate those disruptions.

“We want to get people back to their jobs, particularly those with essential jobs, to keep our society running smoothly,” Fauci said during a CNN interview.

In short, experts say the decision is motivated by economic and staffing shortages.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region medical officer of health, believes that while the community is debating regarding the virus’s stability, the scenario has changed since the inception of the virus in 2020.

Peel’s Regional Medical officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh who stresses the concern on vaccination and believes it is the key for making five-day isolation policy a success. Photo credit: Courtesy/Peel Region

“We are in a transition period where we have a highly vaccinated population for whom the risk has diminished significantly while we have a population that has significant concern around the COVID-19 that it is not static,” he said. “The risk of COVID during March 2020 is not the same, and the scenario has changed significantly.”

Loh said that this time, the overall approach on COVID-19 is shifting.

“We are in this interesting transition period where we are a lot more concerned about severe disease and outcomes,” he said.

Loh said while the risk of spreading the virus is higher, the severity has diminished for people vaccinated with two or three doses.

Hospital staff in Ontario are currently working at a high rate and are seriously short-staffed because many older nurses and doctors have left their positions as they were concerned over their physical well-being.

Registered nurse Samir Patel, who works at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, feels that he and other nurses working at the hospital stand by the government’s decision.

“Considering the recovery of patients in hospitals and the economic aspect, I think five days is okay,” Patel said.

He said some people come to work after five or six days, and they, after testing, have reduced symptoms. Still, to maintain the safety of staff and other high-risk patients, COVID protocols are followed while they are at work.

Loh said that there are a lot of factors that were taken into consideration before making a decision. Right now, the only way to ensure the community’s safety is by following the proper protocol.

“We need to make sure that people are educated with the proper knowledge and tools necessary to take steps when they are sick and make sure they get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Loh said.

And that’s the key. People need to take vaccination seriously and take proper safety measures. This is what could make the five-day isolation period feasible.