Holder calls for COVID testing to be expanded to London pharmacies

Mayor Ed Holder. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

As London’s two COVID-19 assessment centres continue to be overwhelmed by those seeking tests, the city’s mayor is pushing the province to allow local pharmacies to offer the service.

In a phone call to Premier Doug Ford’s office on Thursday, Mayor Ed Holder made an urgent appeal to have COVID-19 testing in pharmacies expanded to London drug stores. The call came a day after Ford announced up to 60 pharmacies in the GTA, Ottawa, and Huntsville would be able to test for the virus starting Friday.

“While the majority of new cases in recent weeks have been occurring in Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa, I want to make sure the Premier’s office understands the dire need for expanded testing here in London and the immediate surrounding area,” Holder said. “Londoners simply need more options. Our two primary assessment centres, at Oakridge and Carling Heights, are regularly at capacity within a few hours of opening, and satellite testing facilities on campus at Fanshawe and Western are extremely limited.”

Before noon on Thursday, the Middlesex London Health Unit reported the Oakridge and Carling Heights assessment centres had both hit testing capacity for the day. A steady stream of people seeking COVID-19 tests has flocked to the facilities on a daily basis since an outbreak linked to Western University students was announced nearly two weeks ago. Wait times have ranged from three to four hours.

Since September 12, London and Middlesex County have recorded 83 new cases of COVID-19. That is a significant surge from two weeks prior to when just 14 cases were confirmed.

“Londoners are understandably concerned. Providing pharmacies in our city with the necessary resources to conduct COVID-19 tests would go a long way towards reducing extreme wait times at our existing assessment centres,” said Holder.

His request was echoed by Middlesex County Warden Cathy Burghardt-Jesson, who is calling on the province to provide for assessment centres in Middlesex County, as well as expanding testing to pharmacies in the county.

“Since the pandemic was declared and assessment centres were opened, our residents have been forced to travel into London to be tested at one of the two assessment centres,” she said. “Considering that for many this is more than an hour-long journey, the lack of availability of assessment centres in Middlesex County is unacceptable. Our residents deserve better.”

The requests from Holder and Burghardt-Jesson to expand testing came on the same day the province updated assessment centres guidelines to prioritize those who are symptomatic, have had close contact with a confirmed case, or are part of an outbreak investigation.

Following a one day double-digit surge of COVID-19 cases, the London region dropped back down to just a handful of new infections on Thursday.

The health unit said three more people tested positive for the virus over the past 24 hours. That is down significantly from Wednesday when 12 new cases were reported.

Holder noted the three new cases represent the lowest daily number recorded in nearly two weeks.

“Encouraging, but by no means does this qualify as a trend. Let’s keep it up,” Holder tweeted.

The region’s total case count is 825, only increasing by one on Thursday as two previously reported cases were shifted.

Resolved cases stand at 687 with no additional recoveries reported since Wednesday. There has not been a COVID-19 related death in the area since June 12.

In nearby Elgin and Oxford counties, there has not been a single new case of COVID-19 in a week. Southwestern Public Health said its total number of cases is unchanged from September 17 at 263. One more infection has been cleared up, bringing the resolved case total to 251. The area has recorded a total of five COVID-19 deaths. Seven active cases remain in the region.

Provincially, new cases rose back above the 400 mark on Thursday.

Public health officials reported 409 newly confirmed cases, up from 335 on Wednesday. The regions with the most new cases were Toronto with 151, Ottawa with 82, and Peel with 46. People under the age of 40 continue to account for more than 60 per cent of new cases.

Ontario’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic is 48,496.

There was one additional death in the province over the last 24 hours to bring the death toll up to 2,836. Resolved cases have risen to 41,886.

More than 30,600 COVID-19 tests were conducted over the last 24 hour period.