TORONTO -- Ontario will open six dedicated COVID-19 assessment centres in the coming days as it works to ramp up its response to the global pandemic.

The first wave of assessment centres will be located at William Osler Health System’s Peel Memorial site, The Ottawa Hospital, North York General Hospital, Mackenzie Health in Richmond Hill and within the Scarborough Health Network and Trillium Health Partners network in Mississauga.

Health Minister Christine Elliot says that facilities will be located in separate buildings close to the hospitals that they are associated with.

The province says that the locations for the initial centres were chosen because they are all in areas experiencing “a significant growth in testing.”

“It is really meant to take the pressure off the hospital emergency departments and to keep the people who may have COVID-19 separate from the general hospital population because you don’t want tit to be spreading there,” Elliot told reporters on Thursday morning. “We have six that are ready to open in next few days with more to open next week as well. We know that it is important to ramp that up.”

In addition to the assessment centres, the province has also approved new physician billing codes which will allow doctors to conduct COVID-19 assessments over the phones.

They have also extended the bridge funding given to municipalities to offset cuts to public health agency funding by another year. The move means that the funding level provided to Toronto Public Health and other agencies will stay the same in 2021 as in 2020, saving municipalities tens of millions in the process.

“This action ensures that historical municipal adjustments remain capped at 10 per cent, and recognizes the considerable time and resources necessary for public health units to effectively respond to COVID-19,” the province said in a press release.