High contact sports, choir and other extracurricular activities can resume in Ontario schools after a temporary pause in activities when students resumed in-person learning amid the Omicron wave.
The province announced the changes Thursday.
Some low-contact sports that allow for physical distancing like tennis are played in schools, but high-contact sports like basketball and volleyball were halted in January due to the risk of COVID-19.
Singing and playing wind instruments were also not allowed but will now be.
The province said participants in extracurricular activities must always wear masks on school premises, but can remove them temporarily “if necessary”, while playing instruments or playing sports.
Also on Thursday, the province said it was officially lifting a directive that suspended surgeries and other procedures to preserve health care system capacity at the height of the Omicron surge.
The province said the “steady decline” in hospitalizations and intensive care admissions from COVID-19 means more procedures deemed elective can gradually resume.
Hospitalizations drop below 2,000 for the first time since early January
Ontario is reporting 1,897 hospitalizations of people with COVID-19, marking the first time that number has fallen below 2,000 since early January as the Omicron wave intensified.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that 56% of those people had been admitted to hospital specifically for treatment for COVID-19, and 44% had been admitted for other reasons but had tested positive. for the virus.
The number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 also fell slightly, from 449 to 445. Elliott said 76% of patients were admitted to intensive care specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for d other reasons and tested positive.
The province is also reporting 44 new deaths. Ontario administered 47,423 doses of vaccine yesterday, for a total of 31,153,087. Among eligible Ontarians aged five and older, 89.26% received a first dose of vaccine, while 84.64% in received a second. In addition, 55.62% of people aged 18 and over received a third injection.
There have been 17 deaths of residents in long-term care homes, more than 40% of which were reporting virus outbreaks.
Ontario does not report data on COVID-19 cases in schools, but four schools were closed for operational reasons and 161 reported absences of 30% or more yesterday.
At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said he was “pleased to report” that public health indicators in the province are showing improvement.
“We can now see that the peak of Omicron is behind us,” Moore said.
He also said the province is considering when additional public health measures, including masking and proof of vaccination policies, could be relaxed.
He said those talks are “ongoing” and the province will have more to say in the coming days.
“We will look at the evidence…and the evidence shows that we are making remarkable improvements in all key metrics in Ontario,” Moore said.
His weekly press conference comes a day after Elliott said Ontario would keep its mask mandate and vaccine certificate system in place.
Elliott said Ontario will not follow the lead of other provinces that have already begun lifting proof-of-vaccination rules and intend to end masking rules soon.
She didn’t say when those policies would end, but said the province expects the mask rules to remain in place for “some time.”
Moore’s press conference also comes after the province began making rapid test kits available for free at grocery stores, pharmacies and other locations.
Elliott said expanding access to testing is part of Ontario’s plan to phase out COVID-19 restrictions.
Less reliable with Omicron
Ontario’s expert scientific advisers say rapid antigen tests don’t pick up COVID-19 infections with the Omicron variant as reliably as they did with the Delta strain, but changing the way the tests are performed may increase their sensitivity.
The Scientific Advisory Table today says in a brief that rapid tests, which involve nasal swabs, are less sensitive for Omicron, especially in the first one or two days after infection.
But, they say tests detect Omicron best if people dab on both cheeks, followed by the back of the tongue or throat, then both nostrils.
Advisors say a single negative rapid test is inconclusive and “should not be used as a green light to abandon or reduce precautions”, but a positive result can be considered positive for COVID-19.
Current provincial guidelines allow people to end isolation – for example, if they develop symptoms – if they receive negative results on two rapid tests 24 to 48 hours apart.
The science table also cites a study suggesting that the sensitivity for detecting Omicron varies between different commercial tests.