The newest coronavirus variant of concern, known as Omicron, is forcing people in Ontario and around the world to take added precautions due to its increased transmissibility. Spreading about 4 times faster than the previously dominant Delta variant, experts say that even people with two doses of a COVID vaccine are at significant risk of becoming infected by Omicron. The Ontario Science Table released modelling on December 16 that shows Ontario will see 5,000 to 10,000 cases per day [PDF] by January. The Society is encouraging all members to take every available precaution to protect themselves in all aspects of their lives.
Here are five things you can do to improve protection for you and your loved ones from Omicron:
1. Get all three vaccine doses
As with previous waves, unvaccinated people are at the greatest health risk. Vaccines reduce the likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19, significantly reduce the severity of illness if infected, and significantly reduces the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others.
A third vaccine dose is now strongly recommended for everyone over 18 years of age. There is clear evidence that the third dose is strong protection against the Omicron variant. The Society encourages every member to be triple-vaccinated as soon as possible.
As of Monday, December 20, every 18+ Ontarian who is at least 84 days from their second dose is eligible for a third dose. To find and book a vaccine appointment, visit https://covid19.ontariohealth.ca.
2. Always wear a mask in indoor spaces outside your home, and in crowded outdoor spaces
Masks are a safe and easy way to protect yourself when you are in higher risk settings, including indoor and crowded spaces. Given Omicron’s increased transmissibility, experts recommend using N95 masks. If you are required to use a mask supplied to you that is not an N95-grade mask, request to put the supplied mask over top your N95.
3. Reduce the size of gatherings as much as possible
This is a time of year when we all want to gather, particularly after almost two years of this pandemic. However, getting together in groups outside your household is a risk. Everyone tolerates some level of COVID-related risk in their lives. The question is how much risk to tolerate. Given the extremely high rate of spread, experts encourage people to keep gatherings outside their household small. In a worst-case scenario, small gatherings prevent super-spreader events where dozens or hundreds of people can get infected at one time. Small gatherings also tend to be easier to control and it may be easier in such circumstances to use mitigation measures like improved ventilation and rapid antigen tests.
If you have been invited to a larger event, this is the time to decline the invitation and instead make plans to see the same people separately at smaller, safer gatherings.
4. Use rapid antigen testing before gatherings
On December 15, the Ontario government announced that it will make rapid antigen tests available at no cost to Ontarians. These tests are or will be available at LCBOs, shopping malls, transit nodes, libraries, and other common destinations. Please avail yourself of these tests and use them as a screening tool. This means that before you attend a gathering, you ask all attendees to do their own test to screen themselves for COVID infection.
To get your free rapid antigen tests, visit one of these locations: https://www.ontario.ca/page/pop-up-holiday-schedule-rapid-antigen-tests#section-2.
Please do not use rapid antigen tests in place of a PCR test that is required when you have COVID symptoms. If you test positive on a rapid antigen test, immediately seek a PCR test to confirm your positive test and isolate until you get the results or further instructions from an appropriate health professional.
5. Improve ventilation to have safer gatherings
Not all gatherings are equally unsafe. If you are going to gather with people outside your household, do it in locations with good ventilation. The best ventilation is outdoors. However, indoor spaces can also be safer. Open windows — even a couple of inches helps significantly — turn on the exhaust fan in your kitchen, open doors, or use a HEPA filter. There are many ways to create air flow in a room. Use as many as possible to reduce your risk.
Recent case counts in Ontario suggest that the number of Omicron cases is doubling every 2.2 days. At that rate, Ontario would have as many cases between December 15, 2021 and January 17, 2022 as it had throughout the entire pandemic up until December 15. This would put extraordinary pressure on Ontario hospitals. Though data is still being examined regarding the severity of illness in people who are infect with Omicron, Denmark shows concerning signs. The Nordic country, which has many similarities to Ontario, has seen Omicron hospitalizations occur at the same rate as the Delta variant. This means that there is a strong likelihood of Ontario hospitals being overwhelmed by January. If hospitals fill up, governments will be forced to bring back the least popular public health measures like school closures and lockdowns. Please do your part to stay safe and avoid these worst-case scenarios.