Ontario pharmacies will soon have the option to offer COVID-19 testing to symptomatic people.
That's a change from the previous policy, which only allowed for testing in a pharmacy if a person wasn't showing any symptoms of the virus.
While speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford said he is confident protocols will be in place to protect shoppers. Ford indicated masking policies remain in place and said there will be dedicated lines for testing.
"We have strong protocols in place … we're going to be very cautious," Ford said.
Currently, pharmacies can only carry out COVID-19 tests for people without symptoms, who haven't been in contact with someone with COVID-19, and aren't part of an outbreak investigation. The testing is largely intended for residents, workers and visitors of long-term care homes, Indigenous individuals, and people who need out-of-country medical services.
A government source says pharmacies — if they opt in — will soon be able to offer PCR swab tests for people with symptoms and high-risk contacts of people with the virus.
Pharmacies taking part in the program will be providing free, in-store diagnostic testing and PCR self-collection kits. They will also serve as drop-off points for at-home tests.
Pharmacies will be expected to have a dedicated space in which to perform the tests, physical distancing, time between tests to allow for cleaning, and put up signage indicating the location provides symptomatic testing.
481 new cases reported
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 481 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as the seven-day average of daily infections continued to tick upward — though the pace of that climb has slowed compared to recent weeks.
Today's count is a roughly nine per cent jump from the same time last week, when the province logged 441 cases.
The seven-day average of daily cases rose to 579. Last Tuesday it stood at 492.
The most recent estimate from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is that cases are now doubling every 24 days or so, compared to about every 15 to 17 days at the same time last week. In other words, the rate of growth in the transmission of the virus is slowing.
Ontario: New daily cases of COVID-19
Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial update:
Newly reported school-related cases: 245 from last Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon. Three of Ontario's 4,844 publicly-funded schools are closed due to COVID-19.
Patients in ICUs with COVID-related illnesses: 139, with 82 relying on ventilators to breathe.
Tests in the previous 24 hours: 18,965, with a 2.5 per cent positivity rate.
Active cases: 4,814, the first significant drop in overall active cases in about three weeks.
Newly reported deaths: One, pushing the death toll to 9,938.
Vaccinations: 13,146 doses were administered by public health units on Monday. About 85.7 per cent of eligible Ontarians have had two shots.
Southwestern PHU considers new COVID measures
The Southwestern Public Health unit in Ontario is considering adopting new public health measures to mitigate the recent rise in COVID-19 case counts.
The medical officer of health for the counties of Oxford and Elgin said this week that the daily counts of new infections in the area have been higher than those in the rest of the province.
Dr. Joyce Lock said the positivity rate in the daily COVID-19 tests in her unit is continuing to climb every week, reaching about 5.1 per cent recently.
She said her team is looking at the local data to see what additional measures can help in stopping the spread of the virus and reducing the pressure on local hospitals.
St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, which is one of three hospitals in the region, said it's facing a dire situation, and is now seeing the highest number of patients requiring critical care since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the public health unit in Sudbury reinstated capacity rules and some other measures last week amid a rapid local rise in cases.