Ontario changing COVID-19 testing guidelines

A woman is given a nasal swab test for COVID-19. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / dolgachov

With cold and flu season just around the corner, one of Ontario’s top doctors says the province is changing its COVID-19 testing guidelines.

Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe told reporters on Thursday that testing should be reserved for those who really need it.

“As the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed, the province must also adapt its approach to testing. 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,” said Dr. Yaffe.

Effective immediately, Ontarians should only seek a test at an assessment centre if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have been exposed to a confirmed case. Employees or residents of long-term care homes experiencing an outbreak should also be tested.

In an effort to expand testing capacity and increase contact tracing, the Ontario government announced it is investing $1 billion in the system. The additional funds will help increase the daily lab capacity from 40,000 tests to 50,000 tests.

The funds will also be used to hire 1,000 new case and contact managers throughout the province.

“As part of our plan to ensure the health system’s readiness for future waves of COVID-19, our government is dramatically expanding our testing capacity, launching more testing locations and adding more case and contact management resources to trace and isolate new cases,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott. “In doing so, we will also support long-term care homes, schools and hospitals to effectively prevent, track and contain outbreaks of COVID-19.”

Some of the funds will also be used to invest in faster, more convenient testing methods.  Currently, testing is available at 151 assessment centres throughout the province using nasopharyngeal swabs.  Some hospitals have started using rapid and point-of-care tests but they are not widely available.