Province rolling out pharmacy-based testing centres starting Friday

For individuals without symptoms

‘Crickets’: Premier expresses frustration at Health Canada’s slow approval of new testing technology

ONTARIO — Up to 60 Ontario pharmacies, including a dozen in the Ottawa area, will offer free COVID-19 testing starting this Friday, as the Ford government aims to ease lineups and wait times at the province’s 150 assessment centres.

Touted by the Ontario government as a “convenient and timely” way of getting a COVID-19 test, the participating pharmacies will provide the service by appointment only and exclusively to asymptomatic individuals (those showing no symptoms).

In Eastern Ontario, the regular assessment centres ceased testing the asymptomatic earlier this month, as the return to school saw a major uptick in demand for the testing of children otherwise forced out of their classrooms for 14 days.

More pharmacy locations are expected to go online in the coming weeks, according to the government.

Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, provided details on the rollout today — a number of days after the premier first indicated a pharmacy testing plan was in the works.

Below, Premier Ford announces the pharmacy rollout.

“We rely on our pharmacists for our flu shots, prescriptions, and important health advice for ourselves and our families. It makes sense to engage them as key partners in delivering more COVID-19 testing,” said Premier Ford. “I have to thank Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall, and the independent pharmacies who have stepped up in a big way to help expand testing to more people in the province. With everyone pitching in, we are well on our way to reaching our goal of 50,000 tests a day and stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Those receiving a test at a pharmacy will be pre-screened and then tested at no charge. When visiting a pharmacy, Ontarians are reminded to follow COVID-19 public health measures, including wearing a face covering, frequent handwashing, and maintaining physical distance from those outside their household or social circle.

“As part of our plan to ensure that we are ready for future waves of COVID-19, our government is working with pharmacies to help expand testing for Ontarians,” said Minister Elliott. “With a recent increase in the number of cases, we are making sure people have more options for testing to identify cases of COVID-19 early. We must not let our guard down. Our best defence is still to follow all public health measures like practising physical distancing, wearing face masks and staying home when ill, so we can stop the spread of COVID-19.”

In another development, a less invasive saliva test method is debuting at three Toronto-area assessment centres this week, with more of the provincial centres set to offer this technique in the coming weeks, according to the government.

However, Ford expressed frustration with Health Canada’s slow approval of the saliva test, during today’s announcement at a Huntsville pharmacy. “Health Canada, we need your help. I just can’t stress it enough, all I’m hearing is crickets from Health Canada right now on the saliva test,” complained the premier.

Below, in this clip from his Sept. 14 media briefing, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis foreshadows the premier’s complaint about lack of approval for new testing techniques like the saliva test.

Expanding COVID-19 testing to pharmacies is part of the province’s touted “comprehensive plan” to prepare the health system for a second wave of COVID-19. According to the government, that plan — titled Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19 — will help the province quickly identify, prevent and respond to any scenario in order to protect communities.

The government says the plan will:

  • Maintain strong public health measures, including continued expansion of testing and case and contact management;
  • Quickly identify, manage and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks;
  • Accelerate efforts to reduce health service backlogs;
  • Prepare for surges in COVID-19 cases;
  • Recruit, retain, train and support health care workers, while also continuing to engage families and caregivers; and
  • Implement the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.

 

Below, in this section of his Sept. 21 media update, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis acknowledges the “overwhelmed” state of the assessment centres in his region, particularly the Casselman location. He outlines plans for a new, larger site in that community and “pop-up” testing centres as well. He also highlights a provincial regulatory change allowing COVID-19 testing in pharmacies, now set to go online at 60 Ontario locations on Friday.

 

Below, in this section of his Sept. 17 media update, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis explains the rationale behind eliminating tests for asymptomatic individuals at the region’s official testing centres — while noting that pharmacies are expected to take on that role in the near future. The doctor acknowledges that asymptomatic individuals — although they represented the vast majority of people seeking tests over the summer — have rarely tested positive at Eastern Ontario’s testing centres. To the contrary, the vast majority of positive tests to date have involved individuals with symptoms, indicating low prevalence of the virus among asymptomatic people in Eastern Ontario, the doctor tells NVN.

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