Ontario Tests Fewer COVID-19s Daily As Cases Continue To Rise

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The number of COVID-19 tests performed in Ontario every day has decreased steadily over the past week, raising fears that the province will be short of disease and unable to capture the true spread of the new coronavirus.

Ministry of Health data shows that there were only 2,568 new test results provided on Tuesday. This is roughly half the daily goal of 5,000 the government promised to reach in late March, and well below the 19,000 tests per day promised for the third week of April.

To help fight the spread of COVID-19, public health and epidemiology experts say Ontario needs to do more testing than less.

“I’m a little concerned that we don’t know what’s going on with this epidemic right now,” Dr. Jeff Kwong, professor of public health and family medicine at the University of Toronto, told CBC News .

“If we can identify more cases in the community, it will give us a better idea of ​​what’s going on. “

Ontario tests a smaller portion of its population than anywhere else in Canada. Quebec, BC and Alberta each test the province’s rate twice.

The shortfall appears to be due to the fact that Ontario continues to restrict screening for people by recommending that people who have not recently traveled abroad should not be tested, even if they have symptoms of COVID-19 .

“There may be more people who have this infection that we are not aware of, and they can pass it on to their contacts,” said Kwong.

Ontario prioritizes testing for inpatients, nursing home residents and healthcare workers. Despite this, Public Health Ontario laboratories struggled to keep up with test volumes in March, resulting in a backlog that peaked at nearly 11,000 people awaiting their results.

The backlog is now resolved, with the help of private labs, and a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said public and private labs can now process up to 13,000 tests a day.

Dr. Vanessa Allen is Chief of Medical Microbiology at Public Health Ontario. She says new test guidelines are coming. (Craig Chivers / CBC)

But Ontario has never tested so many people in a single day, and there is no indication that it will step up testing to use the full capacity of the laboratory.

A sign of the narrowness of tests in Ontario on the most likely cases: nearly 15% of the test results announced Tuesday were positive. Confirmed cases in Quebec account for about nine percent of all tests, and in British Columbia. it’s less than three percent.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said she will soon be announcing plans to conduct more testing on the most vulnerable populations, including residents of nursing homes and retirement homes.

“We have developed a strategy so that we can increase these tests there,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Provincial officials have been working on new testing guidelines that will make the most difference to health care outcomes, said Dr. Vanessa Allen, chief of medical microbiology at Public Health Ontario.

“We want to be able to have the greatest impact with the resources we have,” said Allen in an interview with CBC News.

“We have a responsibility to increase capacity so that we can get better tools for our response and a better picture of the epidemic. “

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