By Rob FergusonQueen’s Park Bureau
Thu., Oct. 7, 2021timer3 min. read
updateArticle was updated 10 hrs ago
Boosters, birds and bon bons.
Ontario has cleared more seniors for third shots of COVID-19 vaccines and issued guidelines for families at Thanksgiving dinners and Halloween, with limits for gatherings remaining at 25 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
Residents of retirement homes, seniors in other congregate settings and more people on a list of “immune-compromising” drugs are becoming eligible for third-dose booster shots, chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday as he spelled out guidance for turkey dinners and trick-or-treating.
“No one should attend Thanksgiving or other social gatherings if they are sick,” Moore told a news conference. “Even if people have mild symptoms, please stay home and get tested.”
Face coverings are not necessary if everyone at a gathering is vaccinated, he said, although those with underlying health conditions or at higher risk from the virus may opt to mask up and distance.
“If you gather indoors with people from multiple households who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, or you don’t know … you should wear a face covering and physically distance,” Moore added, noting the same advice applies to outside settings.
“The fewer people who gather, the lower the risk of transmission. Outdoor gatherings are always safer.”
The guidance is dramatically different from last year, when no COVID-19 vaccines were available, the number of cases was rising in the pandemic’s second wave, and the province recommended against gathering with other households. Almost 82 per cent of Ontarians over 12 are now fully vaccinated.
Other tips for this year include opening windows to improve air flow, cleaning high-touch surfaces, and making hand sanitizer available for frequent use.
Moore said the same rules apply to Halloween, with additional recommendations to build face masks into costumes, avoid crowds of kids and parents on doorsteps, and avoid singing or shouting for treats to reduce the odds of aerosolized transmission.
Children are also advised against wearing costume masks over their face masks, which might impair their ability to breathe.
Moore also cautioned about an increasing number of COVID-19 outbreaks linked to weddings.
Liberal MPP John Fraser, his party’s health critic, questioned why the chief medical officer waited until the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend to provide guidance, after many families might have already invited guests and made dinner and travel plans.
“It’s too late,” Fraser said.
On Wednesday, Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa advised city residents to have only vaccinated guests indoors for Thanksgiving. Outdoor gatherings should be considered when guests include children under 12 — who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations — or those whose vaccination status is unknown, she added.
For third or booster shots, residents of retirement homes, eldercare lodges, assisted-living facilities, chronic-care hospitals and seniors’ apartment buildings must be at least 20 weeks past their second dose.
The expansion to retirement homes comes as 86 per cent of nursing home residents — who were cleared for third shots weeks ago — have now received boosters to strengthen their immunity against the virus and its highly contagious Delta variant, said Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips.
Third doses are also cleared for people on a list of “immune-compromising medications,” Moore said.
Along with the moderately to severely immunocompromised, such as some cancer patients, the list of people eligible for booster shots now includes those under active tumour or blood chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients on immunosuppressive therapy, and some recipients of steroids, among other medications.
Although Moore told a news conference Tuesday that anecdotal evidence of a higher-than-warranted level of medical exemptions from vaccination warranted a “review,” he backed away from that Thursday.
“From my vantage point, the system is working,” said Moore, who previously indicated the rate of exemptions should be no more than five per 100,000 people given the rarity of conditions that warrant them, such as severe allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients and heart inflammation.
Asked about exemptions presented by two of Premier Doug Ford’s 70 MPPs — which opposition parties have dubbed “statistically curious” — Moore replied, “I have no concerns at present.”