Ontario Government Changes Testing Guidelines as Hospitals Advice Restrictions

The big COVID-19 news this week, aside from the steady increase in cases, has been the issues of overwhelmed testing centres across the province, including in our own area. On Thursday, the Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health issued changes to who gets a test and when as a way of taking the pressure off testing centres set up by public health, and ahead of the first testing clinics that are set to open in 60 Ontario pharmacies.

“As the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed, the province must also adapt its approach to testing,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe in a statement. “With the upcoming flu and cold season approaching, we need to ensure Ontario’s publicly-funded testing resources are available for those who need them the most, such as school children and others with symptoms of COVID-19.

Starting immediately, Ontarians will only be given a COVID-19 test at an assessment centre it they’re showing COVID symptoms, been exposed to a person with a confirmed case of COVID, are a resident or employee at a work setting where there’s been a confirmed COVID outbreak, or if they’re part of a targeted testing initiative directed by the Ministry of Health.

“Our best defence against COVID-19 is still to follow all public health measures like practicing physical distancing, wearing face masks and staying home when ill even with mild symptoms, so we can stop the spread,” Yaffe added.

But as the Ministry of Health tries to deal with overwhelmed testing centres, a group of doctors from across Ontario have combined forces through the Ontario Hospital Association to encourage immediate action to limit the further spread of COVID-19.

“As physicians and health care leaders specializing in infectious diseases, we’re calling on the Government of Ontario to immediately place restrictions on non-essential businesses and activities that facilitate social gatherings and increase opportunities for exposure, including dine-in restaurants and bars, nightclubs, gyms, theatres, and places of worship,” read the statement from nearly 40 doctors including Dr. James Murdoch, an Infectious Diseases Consultant at Guelph General Hospital.

“The province must also ask non-essential businesses to have employees work from home and instruct universities and colleges to offer classes online, wherever possible,” the statement added.

The OHA’s request for tighter restrictions comes two days after Ontario announced 478 new cases of the virus, a high water mark not seen since the spring. There’s been a seven day average of 400 cases per day this week, and the doctors noted that this is a pattern of re-infection that has been seen all around the world where they’ve seen resurgent cases that have forced new lockdowns.

“Other jurisdictions have underestimated the speed of which this virus can spread and are now facing the consequence of increased hospitalization rates, including a rise in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and more deaths,” the statement said. “Now is not the time for hesitancy. We must regain a firm grip on the virus to ensure those who are most susceptible in our province stay protected.”

Photo Credit: Picture of the front doors at City Hall during lockdown in May 2020.

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