Ontario stepping up the COVID-19 testing strategy to reduce virus spread

·3 min read

Ontario is taking steps to increase COVID-19 testing, making more tests, and more types of tests available, in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and to support economic recovery of the business community.

The updated plans were outlined at an online technical briefing provided from Queen's Park Friday morning.

"The testing strategy in Ontario really focuses on ensuring that tests are available, accessed and used and then of course processed as quickly as possible to slow transmission," said a Ministry of Health official. Protocol at tech briefings is that a wide range of top ministry officials are available for comment, but their comments are not to be attributed.

The briefing was told that Ontario is doing more than any other province in terms of testing equipment deployed and in the number of tests being carried out. This includes the laboratory based PCR (polymerase chain reaction) diagnostic testing, the Rapid Diagnostic Testing and the Rapid Antigen Screening.

"In Ontario, we are really leveraging the full spectrum of testing tools that are available to us and we're doing that really in order to ensure that the right tools are used in the right situations to have the biggest impact," said the ministry official, who is also a physician.

She added the government is working to get testing out to as many sectors as possible.

"In addition, really to ensure that goes to our under-tested or high-risk or vulnerable populations are prioritized," said the official. "So that also means essential workers and businesses to support economic recovery.”

Another official explained the types of testing, such as the lab-based PCR test, which she described as the gold-standard. She said this is because it identifies the most true cases of COVID-19 and has the lowest rate of false positives. She said Ontario has developed a robust resting network for the PCR test, which is focused mainly on individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms, close contacts and in outbreaks.

She said the Rapid Diagnostic Testing, or molecular testing, is also useful. It is more portable and performs "somewhat comparably" to the lab-based PCR test.

"This essentially addresses some of the issues about access to make sure that more testing can be available to people who need it," said the official. She said it is considered ideal for remote and rural locations in Ontario.

The third testing type, the Rapid Antigen Screening, was described as a powerful tool that is relatively easy to use and allows health-care workers to identify a broader array of cases. It can be deployed in long-term care homes, retirement homes and essential workplaces.

In a news release issued after the briefing, Ontario's Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Vic Fedeli, spoke out on the importance of stepping up the testing strategy.

"It is imperative that we help maintain essential manufacturers and supply chains that keep clean water flowing, keep food on the table and keep the lights on," said Fedeli. "Rapid testing for employees in our most at-risk and critical industries is essential for the safety of Ontario's workforce and for the swift recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com, covering health care in Northern Ontario. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the federal government.

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com