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Monday, May 25, 2020

These are the rules for COVID-19 testing in Ontario right now

After weeks of imposing limitations on who can actually get tested for COVID-19 in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has recently made it a point to expand and ramp up the process, urging residents to get a nasopharyngeal swab if they're concerned, and assuring them that they will not be turned away.

But, there are still eligibility criteria at assessment centres across the province, and they don't exactly align with Ford's statements.

"If you're worried you might have COVID-19 or that you've been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, even if you're not showing symptoms, please, go get a test," the premier encouraged the public on Sunday, telling residents that they can head to any one of the 129 coronavirus assessment centres province-wide.

But, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health, under its most recent guidelines, people must have at least one symptom of the infectious disease — such as a fever of 37.8 C or higher, new or worsening cough, or shortness of breath — to get tested.

Both the Ministry of Health and Public Health Ontario have stated that testing of completely asymptomatic residents is not recommended at this time.

There has also been no explicit recommendation for those who have no symptoms but may have been exposed, though the province is slated to start examining asymptomatic people who are at high risk of exposure and some testing centres have already received updated protocols as of this week.

The Ministry does suggest as of May 14 that "clinicians continue to use their clinical judgement during patient assessment and test facilitation, considering local epidemiology and exposure risks," adding some more mild, atypical symptoms that may also be qualifying factors, such as unexplained fatigue or chills.

Instructions on the websites of specific assessment centres vary; for example, the Osler drive-thru testing centre in Etobicoke states that though patients do not need a referral to get swabbed, they will be "screened upon arrival to determine if they are eligible for testing" — indicating that, unlike Ford says, people may be turned away.

The premier has recently made testing a huge priority after Ontario lagged behind the rest of the country, touting last week that he's "all over" and "obsessed with" testing, and saying that there will soon be widespread random community assessments to help paint a better picture of the pandemic within the province.

"Next week, we'll release a detailed testing strategy targeting various sectors and hot spots across the province," Ford said in his briefing on May 24, calling increased testing "our best defence right now." 

"If you feel you need a test, you'll be able to get a test. So please, don't wait... The only way we can get those testing numbers up [and] where they need to be is for everyone who feels they need it, to get a test."

Unfortunately, there seems to be some miscommunication surrounding rules for novel coronavirus testing in the province at the moment, and with just over 8,000 tests administered in the last 24 hours, we are still falling well below Ford's targets for whatever reason.

Hopefully his comments yesterday mean that official guidelines will actually be changing in the coming days.

by Becky Robertson via blogTO

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