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Quebec reports record COVID cases, Ontario adds measures to long-term care homes

Some provinces announced new measures for long-term care homes as others reported record-breaking COVID-19 infections propelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Some provinces announced new measures for long-term care homes as others reported record-breaking COVID-19 infections propelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. 

Quebec reported a surge in COVID-19 cases while announcing measures that would allow certain health-care workers to stay on the job despite testing positive for the virus.  

Ontario said it was temporarily pausing general visitors from entering long-term care homes starting Thursday, with two designated caregivers per resident exempt from the new rule. 

Rod Phillips, Ontario's Minister of Long-Term Care, said Tuesday that there were 41 homes with outbreaks across the province, up from 37 the previous day. 

While 93 residents and 161 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, none are hospitalized, he said. 

About 84 per cent of eligible residents and 43 per cent of long-term care workers had received COVID-19 vaccine booster doses as of last week, he said. 

New measures are needed because of Omicron’s high transmissibility and community spread, Phillips added. 

"We must remain vigilant." 

The province recorded a total of 8,825 new COVID-19 cases. 

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist with the University of Ottawa, said the new measures come with a social price for residents, but temporary restrictions are likely necessary at a time when community transmission is high. 

"We have to err on the side of caution while we get our ducks in a row because we're scrambling right now," Deonandan said. "Why risk infecting LTCs if we don't need to?” 

Quebec reported 12,833 new cases and 702 hospitalizations, with 15 more deaths linked to the virus. 

Health Minister Christian Dube said some health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be allowed to stay on the job.  

The decision would be made on a case-by-case basis under certain conditions and is necessary to keep the health-care system operational, he said.

Manitoba said Monday that the province may have to consider allowing health workers who test positive back at work if there is further strain on the system, and Ontario appeared poised to enact similar measures.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said there are no immediate plans for the province to follow Quebec's decision. 

While more of the province's health workers will likely need to isolate due to the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant, the situation isn't as serious as it is in Quebec, he said.

But it could change, he noted.

Deonandan called Quebec's move risky but noted that staffing shortages might mean other provinces will follow suit. 

Hospitals will have to ensure other ways of mitigating risk if staff are allowed to work while infected, he added. 

"If you're asymptomatic and triple vaccinated and you wear a fit-test N95 and you work in a place with HEPA filters, the risk comes down substantially." 

Newfoundland and Labrador reported a record-breaking single-day count of COVID-19 cases with 194 new infections. 

Students in Nova Scotia will get an extra week of winter vacation as part of a provincial school COVID-19 reopening plan. 

Officials said the new start date for schools is Jan. 10 to to allow families time to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and book vaccination appointments. Nova Scotia reported 561 new cases. 

Manitoba reported 825 new cases and five deaths. 

Health experts across the country have warned that COVID-19 data has been clouded by holiday delays as well as hospitals and centres reaching testing limits. The real case count is likely to be much higher.

The rising infection rate has begun to dampen new year celebrations and games.  

Mississauga cancelled its fireworks display amid concerns of spiking COVID-19 cases.

Defending champion United States forfeited a world junior men's hockey championship game against Switzerland after two players tested positive for COVID-19. The game was scheduled to be played in Red Deer.

Ontario health officials are considering shortening isolation and quarantine period guidance, following similar changes made in the United States. 

On Monday, U.S. health officials cut the recommended isolation period for Americans who catch COVID-19 to five days from 10, and shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its guidance followed evidence that people infected with COVID-19 are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop. 

Deonandan highlighted a few flaws with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's approach. He noted the reliance on pre-Omicron data, and excluding the caveat of a negative test at the five-day mark to ensure the person is no longer infectious. 

"They're focusing mostly on symptom status, and absent the need for a negative test — that's shocking."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2021.

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the City of Mississauga would host a virtual countdown on New Year's Eve. The city is not holding a virtual countdown.