Alberta is reducing the isolation period for those fully vaccinated from 10 days to five starting Monday.
If Covid symptoms extend past five days, Albertans will be required to isolate until their condition has improved. Unvaccinated Albertans, or those with just one dose will be required to isolate for the full 10 day period.
“We’re making these changes to help prevent disruptions in Alberta’s workforce, especially for those who deliver the services Albertans count on,” said Minister of Health Jason Copping.
“We believe this step will help balance the need for continuing continuity in the workforce, the well being of Albertans, and our need to continue to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant,” he said.
Minister Copping said that this change was in line with Ontario, and in the United States. In both of those locations, economic concerns over worker shortages at businesses drove the changes to isolation periods.
The province will also allow for businesses to bring back sick workers prior to the end of their isolation period has ended. These workers will be required to wear masks at all times, even when alone. Currently the province allows workers to remove their masks if they are alone at a work station.
Essential services given exceptions
Minister Copping said that granting exceptions to businesses would give essential services flexibility to provide services to Albertans.
Details on the types of businesses that would be applicable, and what additional health measures would be required to allow sick workers to work would be available on Monday.
“The discretionary approach that is limited only to those in industries, or services where disruption of that service causes a significant public health impact,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“So that could be something like a water treatment plant, it could be healthcare, it could be another service or location where disruption could again significantly impair public health or safety,” she said.
Dr. Hinshaw said that not many exceptions were anticipated given the universal isolation period reduction to five days.
She said that she did not have projections of what sort of service disruptions there might be from the spread of Omicron.
CMOH says decision based on science
Dr. Hinshaw defended the changes to isolation periods, saying that they were based on science.
She said that the Covid viral shedding period was lessened in those who were fully vaccinated.
“We do know that the ability for people to successfully complete a shorter isolation is enhanced when we inform them that we’re doing that based on the evidence of shortened viral shedding periods for those who are fully immunized,” she said.
“So I want to be clear that the decision to shorten the period of isolation is based on the science that shows that that full immunization does limit the duration of infectiousness and it also is based on again the assessment of different types of impacts.”
Dr. Hinshaw said that Albertans would need to anticipate that Omicron will be universal in society.
“We will not stop Omicron, it is not possible—all we can do is slow it down and that is exactly why we need to be taking these precautions everywhere we go,” she said.
“We should be anticipating that we will all be exposed to Omicron at some point in the next several months.”
Preliminary results, despite reduced levels of testing for Covid-19 in the province, identified an estimated 4,000 cases of the disease on December 29. This was a significantly higher count than at any other point during the pandemic.
Criticism for shortening isolation periods
The government defended their decision to reduce isolation periods by pointing to other jurisdictions.
Critics of the CDC’s decision mid-last-week said that reduced isolation periods could lead to spread of the disease.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Dr. Aaron Glatt with the Infectious Diseases Society of America said “if you decrease it to five days, you’re still going to have a small but significant number of people who are contagious.”
Unlike in Alberta, the CDC’s advice was given as a recommendation to U.S. States, not as a legal requirement.
Alberta’s NDP Health Critic David Shepherd issued a statement following today’s announcement, stating that the government has no plan to get through through the fifth wave.
“Reducing isolation time for those with symptoms is not a solution to widespread staffing issues in schools and hospitals that were directly caused by the policies of this Government,” he wrote.
“We know the UCP Cabinet met for hours yesterday and all they came up with was delaying the reopening of schools because they have no plan to keep them safe and reduce isolation times. That is pathetic.”
Fully immunized status will remain two doses, for now
The province will continue to recognize two doses of either mRNA as being fully immunized.
“So at this point in time we’re looking fully immunized is still two doses, and that’s what we’re actually maintaining—we may have to consider that down the road,” said Minister Copping.
Minister Copping called on the public to get their booster shots as quickly as possible.
“We ask all Albertans right now to make a booking and get that booster because that is one of the best ways that we can actually slow down the spread because we know what third booster is very effective,” he said.
Dr. Hinshaw said that the National and Alberta immunization committees would be providing advice in the new year regarding booster shots for youth aged 12 through 17.