Ontario lifted its mask mandate this week for restaurants, stores, schools and many other indoor settings, despite some experts wanting more time and warning about the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant.
Officials still recommend masks in some places and some communities have targeted mandates.
Some local businesses say the onus of keeping others safe now falls to them and immunocompromised families are trying to balance safety with social needs.
What are the numbers to watch?
Testing strategies have changed under the contagious Omicron variant, meaning many people with COVID-19 aren’t reflected in the case count.
Hospitalizations and wastewater monitoring can help fill in some of the grey areas. There’s more information in our daily story on key numbers.
The average level of coronavirus in Ottawa’s wastewater has been generally stable for about five weeks. It’s about three times higher than it was before the Omicron surge.
There are eight Ottawa residents in local hospitals for treatment of active COVID-19 as of Monday’s report from Ottawa Public Health (OPH). None need intensive care.
If you include all of the city’s COVID patients, such as non-Ottawa residents or people who happen to test positive while in hospital for other reasons, there were 31 as of Saturday.
Ottawa has had 64,929 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 758 residents have died from the illness.
The wider region
Communities outside of Ottawa have about 35 COVID-19 hospitalizations. About 15 of those patients need intensive care. These numbers don’t include Hastings Prince Edward Public Health.
In the rest of eastern Ontario, 410 people with COVID-19 have died. The death toll is 289 in western Quebec.
More than 5.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
Rates of eligible eastern Ontarians with at least two vaccine doses range from 80 to 92 per cent, while adults with a third dose range from 58 to 70 per cent. These numbers aren’t regularly available for western Quebec.
What are the rules?
There are no longer any provincial proof-of-vaccination requirements or capacity limits in Ontario and Quebec.
In Ontario, masks are not mandatory in most indoor settings. Some individual businesses may choose to continue requiring patrons wear masks and/or be vaccinated.
All of Ontario’s COVID-19 rules are expected to end April 27.
In Quebec, mask rules will be dropped everywhere except on public transit by a still-unspecified day in mid-April. The plan is to end them all in May.
Mask rules may be different in places that fall under federal jurisdiction, like the Ottawa airport.
Ontario and Quebec isolation rules have loosened for some close contacts.
Travellers older than 12 years and four months must be fully vaccinated to board a plane or train in Canada.
People have to be fully vaccinated, pre-approved, asymptomatic and test negative to enter Canada without quarantining. Travellers can take an authorized rapid test until April 1, when that requirement is ending.
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The U.S. requires all adults crossing a border to be fully vaccinated. People flying there will need proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Travellers who need a test have local options to pay for one.
How can I manage risk?
COVID-19 primarily spreads through droplets that can hang in the air. People can be contagious without symptoms, even after getting a vaccine.
Evidence suggests the dominant Omicron variant, particularly its BA.2 subvariant, are more contagious than other types but generally less deadly for vaccinated people without underlying conditions.
Though this wave has peaked and severe health problems are generally slowly declining, this level of spread puts vulnerable people at risk.
Health officials say people need to take personal responsibility as government rules transition into government recommendations.
They’re urging people to get all vaccine doses they’re eligible for — especially if they’re over 50 — stay home when sick, wear masks in crowded and indoor spaces, keep their hands clean, distance, see others outdoors if possible and limit close contacts, along with considering community spread and vaccine rates.
Medical masks are recommended over cloth ones.
Vaccines curb the spread of all variants of COVID-19 and go a long way toward avoiding deaths and hospitalizations, although they don’t offer total protection.
Six COVID-19 vaccines are safe and approved in Canada, with some age restrictions around who can get them.
Eligible people can look for provincial appointments online or by phone at 1-833-943-3900.
Ontario adults can book third shots once 84 days have passed since their second. Third doses are available for everyone age 12 to 17 after 168 days.
Fourth doses are being offered to select groups 84 days after their third.
All adults are eligible for a third dose; the general recommended wait time between second and third shots is three months.
Symptoms, treatment and testing
COVID-19 can range from a cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, with common symptoms including fever, a cough, headache, vomiting and loss of taste or smell.
“Long-haul” symptoms can last for months.
Ontario and Quebec are using Pfizer’s COVID-19 prescription treatment Paxlovid at first on people at risk of severe COVID-19 problems.
If you have severe symptoms, call 911.
Mental health can also be affected by the pandemic, and resources are available to help.
In eastern Ontario:
Only high-risk people with symptoms or who are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 can get a laboratory-checked PCR test due to the demand generated by the Omicron variant.
Qualified people can check with their health unit for locations and hours. Other people with symptoms should assume they have COVID-19 and isolate.
Rapid tests are available for the general public at participating stores, for some workers and in some child-care settings.
The plan is for people with a positive rapid test to eventually be able to get a follow-up PCR test.
In western Quebec:
Quebec has also stopped giving PCR tests to the general public, saving them for those in high-risk settings.
Rapid COVID-19 tests are available in all Quebec daycares, preschools and elementary schools, as well as through pharmacies for the general population.
People can report rapid test results online.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis:
First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, or someone travelling to work in a remote Indigenous community, are eligible for a PCR test in both Ontario and Quebec.
Inuit in Ottawa can call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 on weekdays for testing and vaccines in Inuktitut or English .
Akwesasne has COVID-19 information online or at 613-575-2341. The neighbouring Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is also offering tests. About 1,900 residents have tested positive as of mid-February and 19 have died between its north and south sections.
People in Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg can call the COVID hotline at 819-449-8085 for a test on Wednesdays, if they qualify. Rapid tests are available at the health centre. It had more than 175 confirmed cases and one death as of mid-January; 152 of those cases occurred since Dec. 3, 2021.
Pikwàkanagàn has ended its COVID hotline, referring people to its health-care services instead. The community didn’t have any confirmed COVID-19 cases until December 2021; it had 114 confirmed cases as of March 11.
The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte are keeping mask mandates for government buildings. Anyone who’s interested in a PCR test or vaccine can call its health team at 613-967-3603. They can ask about rapid tests by texting 613-686-5510 or sending an email. It had 91 confirmed cases and two deaths until it stopped sharing its count in January.