A Kitchener lab that processes PCR tests for COVID-19 says it’s now working with three local groups that operate long-term care and retirement homes to bring them results more efficiently.
Last week, the Ontario government restricted publicly funded PCR testing eligibility after a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the Omicron variant put a strain on public health resources. People in high-risk settings or who are symptomatic can still seek a test through the provincial system.
Dave Erb, a business developer and partner at Epitome Genetics in Kitchener, said people who are getting tested have reported long wait times for results. It’s been especially challenging for employees and residents in high-risk settings such as long-term care and retirement homes.
“That means staff are at home waiting for results because they can’t come into work and all of the residents are … in their rooms,” Erb told CBC K-W.
The lab has been processing tests for pharmacies throughout the pandemic. But last week, local groups that represent homes across southern Ontario reached out to process tests through the lab for a fee to help reduce wait times.
Erb said despite the increasing need, the lab has capacity to process an additional 5,000 to 10,000 tests a day. It’s offering to help the province by using this capacity to process tests from the provincial system.
“We’re here and we do really want to help.”
The province has said it has the capacity to test about 100,000 people per day. As of last month, the provincial lab network was processing about 50,000 tests. At one point during the pandemic, about 77,000 tests were processed in a day.
But the situation right now is dire, and labs have been met with increasing demand, said Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore.
“We cannot at present test everyone who wants one. I’m sorry we don’t have that capacity. We never actually did, nor does any country,” Moore said at a news conference last week. “We must preserve these resources for those who need them the most.”
For some labs, a spike in COVID-19 tests has delayed the processing of other important medical tests.
Erb said this is why his lab is eager to help the province.
He said lab staff have attempted several times to get in touch with provincial officials; however, they haven’t had much luck, which is why he reached out to CBC K-W.
“We hope that we can get on their radar in a different way,” Erb said.
“It just seems hard to believe that at a time when there is this massive backlog in tests that we have this untapped capacity there that’s just not being used.”
Provincial health officials did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.