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Risk-assessment tool for fully vaccinated people coming soon, Tam promises


OTTAWA — Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says she'll soon have advice to help fully vaccinated Canadians figure out what they can safely do, but it won't be a blanket list of dos and don'ts covering everyone, everywhere.

Instead, Canada is looking at a "risk assessment tool" that will guide Canadians to make a call on their own whether they are safe and comfortable to take off their masks and throw physical distancing to the wind.

"It's not a straight black and white, sort of everybody take off their masks, everybody just do whatever you want," she said at a news conference Tuesday. "We would like to enable people to take themselves through that kind of risk assessment while respecting local public health requirements."

At least 7.7 million Canadians — one in five people — have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that group is growing by one million people every two or three days. By the end of July, Canada expects to have enough doses to fully vaccinate all Canadians over the age of 12.

The Centers for Disease Control in the United States issued general guidance for the fully vaccinated back in early March, when fewer than one in 10 Americans had all the required doses they needed. That included, for example, socializing indoors and maskless with other fully vaccinated people, and not having to quarantine or test after an exposure to COVID-19 as long as you didn't develop symptoms.

The CDC now says fully vaccinated Americans can travel without quarantining afterwards, though they do need a negative COVID-19 test before departing for the U.S. 

Canada is moving to follow suit July 6, when citizens and permanent residents can return home without quarantining, as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative both before and after arriving.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday he will announce within the next few weeks when that can be expanded to fully vaccinated foreigners.

But direct guidance on how individual Canadians can begin to interact with one another more normally remains elusive. 

Canada has been reluctant to go there so far, preferring to focus on community levels of vaccination, but Tam said Tuesday it is time to start getting a bit more specific for individuals.

"I think this is a really good question, especially at this point in time that most Canadians will have access to the second dose," she said.

"We expect to undergo these discussions rapidly and provide further communication to Canadians."

The tool is likely to provide a list of questions about your vaccination status, and that of the people you want to gather with, whether it will be indoors or outdoors, and what the local infection rates are. 

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said a blanket statement on what all Canadians can do when double-dosed isn't realistic.

"I think it would be helpful to some extent but the thing is some of these messages have to be really nuanced," he said. 

He said there is still much to be learned about how the vaccines prevent transmission, the variants of the virus add some elements of risk, and that for now, he wouldn't recommend people take off their masks indoors in public.

"We're not there yet," he said.

Canada's case counts are the lowest they have been in nine months, and hospitalizations and intensive care admissions have dropped below where they were last October and November respectively. Tam said she is thrilled at how Canada has done planking the curve since the third wave peaked in April.

And as vaccinations increase things are starting to loosen.

Alberta announced Monday it would be lifting almost all provincial restrictions on Canada Day, eliminating the province wide public mask mandate and opening the door for indoor parties, and limit-free outdoor celebrations.

Saskatchewan will follow on July 11.

Quebec is moving every region into the "green" status as of next week, allowing for larger indoor gatherings, and street parties. Premier Francois Legault also said as of Friday, fully vaccinated people can socialize with each other indoors without masks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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