Ontario to begin COVID-19 testing in pharmacies starting Friday amid uptick in cases

Ontario to begin COVID-19 testing in pharmacies starting Friday amid uptick in cases-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
COVID-19 testing centres in several regions throughout southern Ontario continue to see high demand. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)


Ontario will begin offering COVID-19 testing in pharmacies Friday, beginning with up to 60 pharmacies around the province, the premier says.

However, CBC Toronto has confirmed with some of the pharmacies on the government list that they won’t be able to begin the testing Friday.

Of the 13 pharmacies contacted, seven said they won’t be ready to test because they don’t yet have the necessary supplies or training, while they others said they don’t yet know.

The testing will be available by appointment only, for those not experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, and is expected to roll out to further locations in the coming weeks, the province says.

In addition, three hospitals will be offering saliva testing starting this week. Those hospitals include Women’s College, Mount Sinai and University Health Network―Toronto Western Hospital.

The saliva-based tests will at first be conducted alongside the usual nasal-pharyngeal testing to assess their accuracy, Health Minister Christine Elliott said at a news conference Wednesday.

The testing initiative is the second part of the government’s fall pandemic preparedness plan. The first piece involved purchasing millions of seasonal flu shots that the government is encouraging all residents to get.

“We have prepared for the worst,” Elliott said, adding the province has seen modelling of various scenarios including a slow burn of little peaks and valleys in the daily numbers to more dramatic increases. Elliott said further details about those models will be unveiled as the province continues to roll out its fall plan.

During the news conference, Ford also took aim at Health Canada for not yet approving saliva-based testing for broad use.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said last week that Health Canada will not approve a test that endangers Canadians’ health because they are inaccurate or offer a false sense of security.

Ford has been under increasing pressure to address long lines at some of the province’s 150 assessment centres as the demand for tests surged following the return to school earlier this month.

Hours before Wednesday’s pharmacy announcement, a hospital in Kitchener, Ont., closed its drive-through COVID-19 testing centre for the day over concerns for the safety of its staff and the public.

The Grand River Hospital said vehicles began to line up at 2:30 a.m., five hours before opening time, and “aggressive behaviours” from some of those waiting contributed to the decision to temporarily shut down.

The news comes as reported another 335 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a marked departure from new daily case counts observed earlier this week. The province’s labs processed 35,400 test samples for the novel coronavirus the previous day, Elliott said.

The new cases are once again mostly concentrated in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa, with 102, 79 and 65 respectively.

Three other public health units saw double-digit increases as well:

  • York Region: 30
  • Halton Region: 15
  • Waterloo Region: 13

In a series of tweets, Elliott noted that some 69 per cent of newly confirmed infections are in people under 40 years old, consistent with trends in recent weeks.

Forty-two of the new cases in today’s report are school-related: 21 are students, five are staff and 16 are categorized as “individuals not identified.”

As of Wednesday, the total number of cases in Ontario schools was 180.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s education minister says he is considering shortening the list of  COVID-19 symptoms that require kids to stay home from school.

Stephen Lecce says he is working with the province’s medical officials to consider possible changes to the list.

The relative drop in new daily cases comes after more than 400 were reported on four of the last five days. The 478 infections in yesterday’s provincial report were the most on any single day since May 2, just after community spread of the virus was considered to have peaked in Ontario.

Despite today’s figure, the five-day rolling average of new daily cases, a measure that smoothes peaks and valleys in data, has been trending steadily upward since mid-August. Those increases have accelerated considerably over the last 10 or so days.

Ontario has now seen a total of 48,087 confirmed cases of the illness since the outbreak began in late January. About 86.5 per cent of those infections are considered resolved. Another 258 were marked resolved in today’s update.

There are currently some 3,652 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide, the most since June 9. Public health units with more than 100 current active infections include:

  • Toronto: 1,178
  • Peel Region: 779
  • Ottawa: 594
  • York Region: 308
  • Waterloo Region: 129
  • Halton Region: 122

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to slowly but steadily grow, and is now up to 88. Twenty-four of those people are being treated in intensive care and nine are on ventilators.

The province’s official COVID-19 death toll increased by three in today’s report and sits at 2,835. A CBC News count based on information provided directly from public health units puts the real toll at at least 2,872.

The number of tests processed yesterday is among the highest ever achieved in Ontario. There are, however, cracks starting to show in Ontario’s testing system in recent weeks, with long lines at testing centres making for hours-long waits in some parts of the province.

Premier Doug Ford has said he is hoping to have around 60 pharmacies performing tests by the end of this week.

Lisa Dolovich, dean of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, says it is reasonable that could happen.

“And if it’s not later this week, it’ll be hopefully early next. I’m not sure exactly how the timeline will go,” Dolovich said on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning Wednesday.

The province needs to make regulation changes to allow that to happen, she said, and things are happening at a “very accelerated rate” right now to make that happen.

Pharmacies will also have to make changes on the ground, and set up for infection control, cleaning, PPE, and increased staffing, she said.

“Not all pharmacies are going to do this, but the pharmacies that feel they can mount this effort will have the staff available. I think pharmacies want to do their part.”

Ford, along with Elliott, rolled out the first part of the province’s fall COVID-19 strategy at a news conference yesterday. The announcement focused on a flu shot campaign that they said will see some 5.1 million doses distributed for use provincewide.

Both Ford and Elliot said that further details of the plan would be released today.

Effort to curb workplace outbreaks

Meanwhile, the provincial government says it will hire 98 new labour inspectors this fall as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says the government will begin to recruit the workers in October.

The hiring blitz will increase the number of government inspectors from 409 to 507 and will cost $11.6 million.

McNaughton says the inspectors will allow the government to respond faster to situations that may arise during the pandemic.

Labour inspectors investigate workplace hazards, injuries, fatalities and work refusals.

They also have the power to stop unsafe work, order employers to comply with the law, and initiate prosecutions.


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