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P.E.I.'s mandatory COVID-19 isolation requirements to end Dec. 1 logo 2022-11-30 Victoria Walton

Prince Edward Island's isolation requirements that have been in place since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic are ending.

"It's a very different disease than it was three years ago, and at some point, society moves on," said Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam. "The only way we're going to backtrack is if a new variant comes out that is really scary. But right now, we're not seeing evidence of that."

Currently, Islanders who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for at least five days, or 10 if they are immunocompromised.

That number has changed quite a bit over the course of the past few years. From the start of the pandemic until summer 2021, Islanders were required to isolate for 14 days if they tested positive for COVID-19. Then between July 3, 2021, and Jan. 7, 2022, it was 10 days, and finally up until Sept. 8 of this year, the requirement was seven days.

"Pandemics end partially when society says the pandemic's over," said Gardam. "Society has spoken, right?"

Testing demand down

With isolation going away, Health P.E.I. is also taking a closer look at the future of its testing clinics.

"We do have to move on at some point," Gardam said. "It has been almost three years."

Even with the isolation rules currently in place, COVID-19 is circulating in P.E.I. The most recent update from Nov. 29 reported 302 new cases. The demand for testing has significantly dropped off in recent months.

"I don't think we'll see a massive change in behaviour once this rule is gone," he said. "It'll be very similar to what we're experiencing right now."

The numbers back that up, too. In February, at the height of the Omicron wave, clinics were doing nearly 11,000 tests per week. By July that had dropped to 1,400 tests per week, and this month it's down to just 450. 

But even if demand continues to drop, there are no plans to close clinics — just reduce their hours and staffing. Rapid tests will also continue to be available at schools, libraries and Access P.E.I. sites.

"The emphasis is moving away from just focusing on COVID, to ensuring that the spread of all respiratory illnesses is minimized," Dr. Heather Morrison, the province's Chief Public Health Officer, said in an email. 

Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer, says the province is shifting from mandatory isolation to encouraging everyone to stay home if they're sick. © CBC Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer, says the province is shifting from mandatory isolation to encouraging everyone to stay home if they're sick.

Morrison said that while the province will no longer require isolation, that doesn't mean Islanders should leave the house when they're sick. Her office is updating messaging to simply say anyone should stay home when sick, no matter why they're feeling unwell.

"If you must go out when you aren't feeling well, and for the 10 days after your illness started, it is important to wear a mask in indoor public places to prevent spreading your illness to others," Morrison said. "Avoid vulnerable settings such as long-term care homes until you feel better and until it has been at least 10 days since your first symptoms appeared."

The focus is also on allowing people who are most vulnerable to get tested. Health P.E.I. said it wants to ensure those who really need a test still have easy access, so they don't go looking for them at P.E.I.'s already overwhelmed emergency departments. 

"For people who are at risk of serious illness from COVID, it is still important to test for COVID since there is a treatment medication (e.g. Paxlovid)," said Morrison. "That, when taken within five days of symptom onset, can reduce your risk of hospitalization and help you to recover sooner."

'Ship has sailed' on masks

Gardam is also trying to prevent emergency departments from becoming busier. He said the isolation requirements won't change for health-care workers.

"I can't suddenly let health-care workers not isolate if they have COVID symptoms, because we could end up with outbreaks," he said.

Life returning to normal is the natural progression of pandemics, Gardam said. 

"If you look through the history of pandemics, that's what often happens over and over again," he said. 

When asked if he'd like to see masking rules return for the winter, Gardam said, "I think that ship has sailed."

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