Up to 60 pharmacies to begin COVID-19 testing in Ontario
Province hopes option will help reduce wait at assessment centres
TORONTO — Up to 60 Ontario pharmacies will offer COVID-19 tests starting Friday, an initiative the government hopes will help reduce long waits at assessment centres across the province. Premier Doug Ford announced the pharmacy testing Wednesday as the second part of a fall pandemic preparedness plan, saying it would be expanded in the coming weeks.
Pharmacies will only test individuals with no symptoms after they have made an appointment. Ford stressed that those experiencing symptoms must continue to go to the hospitalrun assessment centres.
“We need to make it easier to get a COVID test,” he said. “It’s easy to get a flu shot, we have to make sure that (getting) a COVID test is just as easy.”
Ford has been under increasing pressure to address long lines at some of the province’s 147 assessment centres as the demand for tests surged following the return to school.
Hours before Wednesday’s pharmacy announcement, a hospital in Kitchener, Ont., closed its drive-thru COVID-19 testing centre for the day over concerns for the safety.
The Grand River Hospital said vehicles began to line up at 2:30 a.m., five hours before opening time, and “aggressive behaviours” from some of those waiting contributed to the decision to temporarily shut down.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the pharmacy testing — which will be free — will help the province get ready for future waves of COVID-19. She noted, however, that anyone getting a pharmacy test will need to be pre-screened ahead of their appointment.
“With a recent increase in the number of cases we are providing people with more options for testing to identify cases of COVID-19 early,” she said.
A union representing hospital workers raised concerns that pharmacy testing could bring people with the virus in contact with vulnerable seniors or other medically compromised people.
“Sending the public to a pharmacy and mingling with people who fear that they have COVID-19, and may be symptomatic … seems to me to be unwise and potentially not very safe,” said Michael Hurley, president of the Council of Hospital Unions, a branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
But the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacist Association said testing can be conducted safely in pharmacies. "The initial phase was meant to be small to so that we could do this in a safe way and learn from the initial roll out," Justin Bates said.
Premier Doug Ford has been under increasing pressure to address long lines at some of the province’s 147 assessment centres, such as this one at Women's College Hospital in Toronto on Wednesday, as the demand for tests surged following the return to school.