Ot­tawa of­fers help to boost lag­ging COVID-19 test­ing

The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - LAURA STONE TU THANH HA

Con­tact trac­ing, col­lec­tion and shar­ing of data will be key parts of col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts, Trudeau says

The fed­eral govern­ment is of­fer­ing to help prov­inces with COVID-19 test­ing and con­tact trac­ing as On­tario and Que­bec strug­gle to meet their tar­gets while their economies re­open.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau on Fri­day said COVID-19 is still a se­ri­ous health threat, and test­ing and trac­ing the con­tacts of those who have been in­fected is cru­cial to slow its spread. He said Ot­tawa also plans to help prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries share data they have col­lected on case num­bers.

“In or­der for peo­ple to move around freely and start get­ting back to nor­mal life, we have to im­prove our abil­ity to quickly pin­point the virus and iso­late it,“Mr. Trudeau said.

“The next phase of our col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts is on test­ing, con­tact trac­ing and data col­lec­tion. And I’ve told the pre­miers that the fed­eral govern­ment is here to sup­port, fa­cil­i­tate and fund this im­por­tant work.”

Some 240 em­ploy­ees from Health Canada and the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence are al­ready help­ing On­tario with con­tact trac­ing. Ot­tawa has also funded test­ing ef­forts in the prov­ince by procur­ing reagent and other sup­plies.

Sta­tis­tics Canada has also of­fered 1,700 in­ter­view­ers who can make 20,000 calls a day to help with con­tact trac­ing, Mr. Trudeau said. Canada has the ca­pac­ity to test 60,000 peo­ple a day for COVID-19, but has been av­er­ag­ing only about 28,000.

On­tario’s cases have been trend­ing up­ward this week, and the prov­ince on Fri­day re­ported 441 new ones - the high­est num­ber since May 8. The num­ber of tests pro­cessed by On­tario’s labs reached a high of only 11,276 on Thurs­day, well short of the prov­ince’s goal of 16,000 and its ca­pac­ity of 20,000 a day. The Que­bec govern­ment an­nounced on May 1 that within a week it would dou­ble its vol­ume of tests to 14,000 a day – but it has strug­gled to reach that mark.

Andrew Mor­ris, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the an­timi­cro­bial stew­ard­ship pro­gram at the Si­nai Health Sys­tem and the Univer­sity Health Net­work in Toronto, said Ot­tawa’s of­fer to help with con­tact trac­ing is com­pli­cated by the ju­ris­dic­tional is­sue of pub­lic health units, but it should have come sooner.

“The bot­tom line is we need it. And we needed it, like, yes­ter­day,“he said. “There’s no rea­son why we couldn’t have had a de­vel­op­ment over the last two months of soft­ware and ap­pli­ca­tions to fa­cil­i­tate hav­ing that done so that there would be some way of stan­dard­iz­ing it.”

On­tario Premier Doug

Ford said on Fri­day “all help is ap­pre­ci­ated” from the fed­eral govern­ment, and he con­tin­ued to en­cour­age peo­ple with COVID-19 symp­toms to visit the prov­ince’s 144 as­sess­ment cen­tres to be tested.

“We’re go­ing to con­tinue fo­cus­ing on trac­ing and track­ing th­ese cases. But the whole coun­try’s on it right now,” he said.

Mr. Ford said he and other pre­miers have dis­cussed us­ing a phone app in con­tact trac­ing, but added that pri­vacy is “very im­por­tant.” Health Min­is­ter Chris­tine El­liott said that with con­tact trac­ing, the prov­ince be­lieves it has been able to reach 92 per cent of the peo­ple it needs to find with 24 hours, but there is “room to do bet­ter.”

The Premier said On­tario will broaden its test­ing ef­forts this week­end to fo­cus on se­niors’ homes and asymp­to­matic and symp­to­matic health care work­ers. The prov­ince is also look­ing into po­ten­tial “hot spots,” pri­mar­ily in the Greater Toronto Area, and Mr. Ford said he wants truck­ers, taxi driv­ers, auto work­ers and oth­ers in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor tested.

Que­bec Deputy Premier Geneviève Guil­bault told re­porters on Fri­day that the prov­ince wouldn’t turn down any of­fer of help. Que­bec Na­tional Pub­lic Health Di­rec­tor Ho­ra­cio Ar­ruda said the prov­ince has al­most reached its test­ing tar­gets but could ben­e­fit from ad­di­tional re­sources. “We have to be ready for the sum­mer, we have to be ready for peo­ple’s ex­haus­tion, we have to be ready for the next wave.”

Of­fi­cials in Que­bec have been in touch with about 500 of the 1,700 Sta­tis­tics Canada in­ter­view­ers, Dr. Ar­ruda said.

Que­bec has led the way among prov­inces in phas­ing out the coron­avirus lock­down. For a while, its test­ing num­bers stag­nated un­der 10,000. “I can’t ac­cept that. I am not happy, I’ve told the peo­ple con­cerned,” Que­bec Premier François Legault said on May 13.

On Wed­nes­day, the prov­ince was able to test 12,654 peo­ple. “We’re go­ing to con­tinue fo­cus­ing on trac­ing and track­ing th­ese cases. But the whole coun­try’s on it right now,” But some have com­plained of hur­dles when they tried to get checked.

Kristy-Lyn Kemp, a li­censed prac­ti­cal nurse, looked af­ter COVID-19 pa­tients at Rési­dence Her­ron, an el­der-care home hit hard by the cri­sis.

Be­cause she was start­ing a new job at an­other fa­cil­ity, she tried to get tested in early May, but was turned away be­cause she had no symp­toms. She tried again, claim­ing she had a fever and cough. She tested pos­i­tive. “I just can’t be­lieve that I had to lie to get tested,” she said on Face­book.

We’re go­ing to con­tinue fo­cus­ing on trac­ing and track­ing th­ese cases. But the whole coun­try’s on it right now. DOUG FORD ON­TARIO PREMIER

RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Peo­ple line up at a mo­bile COVID-19 test­ing clinic in Mon­treal on Tues­day. The Que­bec govern­ment an­nounced on May 1 that within a week it would dou­ble its vol­ume of tests to 14,000 a day, but it has strug­gled to reach that tar­get.

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