Ontario should start testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19, infectious disease expert says
TORONTO -- Ontario’s decision not to test asymptomatic people for COVID-19 infections is a policy that the province should consider changing and soon, a Toronto-based infectious disease specialist says.
The provincial government recently announced that it would be opening up testing to all people experiencing symptoms of the virus, a directive Dr. Isaac Bogoch suggests is long overdue.
“That seems like the obvious thing to do,” Bogoch said during an interview with CP24 on Thursday morning. “Before people were getting turned (away) from diagnostic testing centres because they might not have met the criteria.”
Bogoch, an infectious disease expert and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital, noted that other provinces have started to test asymptomatic people and the results have been illuminating.
“Alberta started testing asymptomatic individuals. In fact, they tested 1,000 asymptomatic individuals in and around the Calgary area and they found 50 positive people. Imagine how helpful that is in getting the epidemic under control,” he said.
“I'm not sure if it is a capacity issue or if it is just a sluggish policy issue or something in between but we are not doing that yet in Ontario…I hope that changes soon.”
Evidence that asymptomatic carriers of the virus were transmitting it to others emerged in reports from virus hotspots in late February and March.
Following the World Health Organization’s direction, Canadian health authorities did not begin to formally accept the possibility of asymptomatic transmission until early April.
It should also be noted that Ontario has failed to come even close to reaching testing targets in recent days.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Ontario lagged behind every other province in the country when it came to per capita testing but managed to ramp up testing capacity to nearly 20,000 tests per day.
But on Monday, only 5,813 tests were conducted and only 7,382 tests were processed on Tuesday.
Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, previously suggested that the low testing numbers were the result of fewer people showing up to assessment centres due to the long weekend.
Premier Doug Ford, who said he was a little "shocked" to see testing numbers drop down again, vowed to bump them back up.
"We are going to ramp up the testing like this province has never seen," Ford said at Queen's Park on Wednesday. “I’m going to be all over this testing."
Thursday's epidemiologic report, which releases data from the previous day, revealed an uptick in testing, with more than 10,000 tests conducted, but that number still trailed provincial targets by a significant margin.
Bogoch said the province will need to make improvements in testing before continuing to ease public health measures.
“I certainly think... we are going to need rapid expansion of diagnostic testing and of course contact tracing in order to really ensure we can lift the public health restrictions safely,” he said. “We certainly need to improve on those fronts.”
Ford says he supports 'random' testing
During a news conference at Queen’s Park on Thursday afternoon, Premier Ford acknowledged that the province should be testing people who do not have symptoms of the virus.
“We can't just be testing people with symptoms. We have to start going to the broader public and start testing as many people as possible, asymptomatic people,” Ford said.
“Until we do that, we can't get our hands around the whole system. How do know how many asymptomatic people are out there right now? But if we just keep testing and tracing and testing and tracing, we are going to get it done.”
Ford said he would like to see “random testing” for truckers, taxi, limo, and Uber drivers, as well as people who work in big food processing and manufacturing plants.
The premier said members of the health command table are working on a plan to expand testing and he hopes to release more details on that next week.
“I'm frustrated but I have confidence in the team,” Ford said. “They are working hard. They are doing everything they can.”