Only people who are exposed to large groups will be tested for COVID-19
TORONTO -- Travel will no longer be a determining factor in whether or not people can get a test for COVID-19, according to an internal memo sent to GTA public health units.
This week health officials started saying they believe some positive cases of the virus were locally transmitted, including the province’s second COVID-19-related death.
“This shift in testing criteria reflects the fact that there is now evidence of community spread within the Toronto Region, and that travel history is increasingly becoming irrelevant as a criteria for testing,” the document, which was obtained by CTV News Toronto, said.
“There is concern that there is significant risk in persisting with a travel-based approach, as cases will be missed and potential exposures may occur.”
Instead, assessment centres in the Greater Toronto Area will only be testing people who are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 to large groups, including those who work on the frontlines in healthcare or long-term care homes, those who live in “vulnerable settings” (homeless shelters, prisons, retirement homes), and those who have been identified by Toronto Public Health as being part of “active cluster outbreaks.”
“Everyone else, even those with mild symptoms who have returned from travel, do not need testing, unless they get sick enough to go to an Emergency Department,” the document reads. “This change in strategy is not because of shortage of supplies, but a more measured, targeted use of existing resources.”
Speaking to reporters at their daily briefing, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health did not directly address the criteria for COVID-19 testing, but rather said that some clinicians may be prioritizing based on need.
“A few days ago we had what seemed like only a few days of swabs left, we just got a large shipment from the federal government,” Dr. David Williams said. “That pressure has ended.”
He stressed there is a backlog of tests that need to be completed and while officials hope to be able to conduct 5,000 tests a day shortly, they want the results to be produced within 12 to 16 hours.
At the moment, patients are reporting a four to six day wait on testing.
“We would like to be able to say that we can test everyone if we could but we want to make sure we have the infrastructure to do it,” Williams said.
People who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, coughs, muscle aches and shortness of breath, are being asked to call their local public health units or call Telehealth Ontario before going to an assessment centre.
They are also expected to self-isolate for 14 days.
These changes come as the number of positive COVID-19 cases are starting to surge. On Friday, the City of Toronto reported 153 positive cases of the virus, including a paramedic, a member of the city’s homeless population and someone in a city-run long-term care facility.