Up to 60 phar­ma­cies to be­gin COVID-19 test­ing in On­tario

Prov­ince hopes op­tion will help re­duce wait at as­sess­ment cen­tres

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - CANADA & WORLD - SHAWN JEFFORDS

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.

NATHAN DENETTE THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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