Ontario won’t reach Ford's 13K per day COVID-19 testing benchmark for weeks
TORONTO -- Ontario’s expansion of COVID-19 testing will progress more slowly than previously announced, because public health officials are worried about outstripping precious testing supplies and focusing on coverage of those working in the healthcare and long-term care sectors.
From about 5,500 tests completed in the past 24 hours, officials said daily output will rise to about 8,000 tests by April 15, 12,500 tests a day by April 22 and 16,000 tests per day by May 6.
The initial expansion to about 13,250 tests a day will be split between hospitals, people presenting at assessment centres with symptoms, healthcare workers themselves, long-term care residents and the people who work at long-term care homes.
They will also begin expanded testing of paramedics, police, correctional officers, inmates, residents of group homes, residents of Indigenous reserves, and occupants of homeless shelters during this time.
For his part, Premier Ford appeared pleased with the pace of expansion.
“We’re going to find cases faster, intervene earlier and stop this virus in its tracks,” he said Friday.
When asked about his previous demand that 13,000 people be tested each day as soon as possible, Ford defended the new plan, saying testing numbers would double in days.
“We’re ramping it up – we are doubling the testing in a very short period and you are going to see the numbers jump – and if we can do it sooner, we will do it sooner,” he said.
“At least we’re going in the right direction.”
Public health doctors speaking Friday said the slow increase in testing is due in part to a worry that the ramp up will lead to a massive backlog in processing tests, and also that supplies of testing material such as swabs and reagent are still limited.
One official said Ontario has enough materials for about 200,000 tests at the moment, or about 7 to 10 days.
There are several “leads” on securing more, but nothing concrete as of yet, given that most of the world is now competition to buy them.
One senior bureaucrat said they are “confident” that they will have the supplies they need to expand testing through until May in their current plan.
Premier Doug Ford and other leading officials have previously stated a desire to hit 13,000 completed COVID-19 tests per day, and 19,000 by later in April.
For much of late March and early April, Ontario lagged all other provinces in number of tests administered per 100,000 people, at one point lagging Alberta by a factor of three.
But officials said Friday that is not realistic given supply constraints and the logistics of getting tests to everyone they wish to target throughout Ontario.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said that all decisions about who to test at assessment centres will be left to the clinical judgment of doctors. She said that the “worried well” need to steer clear of hospitals assessment centres to preserve the ability of the system to test healthcare workers and other priority groups.
“We need to concentrate our resources that are showing the symptoms and are a danger to their own health or a danger to other people – or essential workers because they need to go to work,” she said.
Once everyone in their current plan is being tested, the province will then move to begin testing a sample of essential workers such as grocery store employees or gas station attendants each day.
They will also begin testing chemotherapy recipients, pregnant women, newborns, organ transplant recipients and cross-border workers.
This expansion will likely occur sometime in May.