Assessment centers in several regions of the province refuse COVID-19 tests to some people who say they meet the criteria, even if the Premier says that his “patience is weak” that the province does not test at 13 000 tests per day. and that we should test “everyone possible”.
Meanwhile, Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, told The Star that there were no plans for “general testing”. This, she said, would only cause another round of backlogs in laboratory tests.
These are the kinds of mixed messages that have caused confusion and concern for people, including Caleigh Fera, 21.
Fera, an Oakville resident who developed a fever with a sore throat and cough, was referred for testing on Thursday by Halton Public Health. But when she arrived at the assessment center at her local hospital, she was told that she would not be tested.
“What worried me was shortness of breath and chest pain,” said Fera, a student at the Sheridan College program for technical production for the performing arts.
The province announced on Wednesday that it is expanding its tests to include more at-risk groups, including new admissions to nursing homes and nursing homes, as well as residents of institutions that show symptoms. The new guidelines also include symptomatic health workers and front-line workers, according to a statement from the Department of Health that describes the expanded testing guidelines.
But the province also said that where testing resources are limited, as there have sometimes been since the start of the pandemic, priority should be given to those who have been referred for testing by individual public health units. .
The guidelines seem to include Fera. She thought she was a prime candidate for testing, not only because she had symptoms but also because she had several underlying health conditions – a heart murmur that requires close monitoring, as well as respiratory problems.
Dr. Neil Rau, medical microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Halton Healthcare, said that test criteria continue to evolve as test availability increases in Ontario.
He did not specifically comment on Fera’s case.
“When Ontario encountered a problem with limited availability of tests and long turnaround times, in consultation with the Halton area, our hospital limited testing to those who work with the most vulnerable, such as workers. or those who work long term. care that could unintentionally spread the virus to vulnerable people, “he said.
A Star survey of screening policies in different public health units also reveals a variety of different criteria for determining who is eligible for testing, leaving some to wonder what they are supposed to do if they think they have the virus.
Public health units such as Chatham-Kent said their criteria included travelers who had visited an affected area and had symptoms, as well as people who had been in contact with a probable or confirmed case.
And health care system William Osler, which operates assessment centers in Brampton and Etobicoke, says online that it tests people with mild symptoms of an upper respiratory infection or pseudo- disease influenza in combination with a number of factors, including whether they are over 60, immunocompromised or have been referred by public health due to contact with a confirmed or probable case.
The province previously said there is a global shortage of test kits. Chazan, spokesman for the Minister of Health, said Thursday that there was no critical shortage in the province’s assessment centers, which are run by hospitals.
And Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s deputy chief medical officer of health, said, “Right now, there is no shortage of testing equipment. Now, it may not stay that way forever, but it currently is. “
But the Toronto public health unit said it limited testing to those who could spread the virus to large groups. When asked why, Dr. Vinita Dubey said in an email that “prioritization of certain groups is happening now because there is a shortage of test kits (pads) across the province.”
Lambton County Public Health also said it follows provincial criteria, but can be “applied differently depending on the setting and availability of swabs.”
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So while the Premier is pushing for more testing, it does not appear that the province is considering adopting the type of general testing that has slowed the spread of the virus in countries such as South Korea, or even closer to with us in Alberta.
The Western Province is testing many of the same risk groups as Ontario and this week expanded the criteria to include anyone 65 and older with possible symptoms.
Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said on Thursday that no country is currently surveying the general population.
Typically, countries track the spread of viruses such as influenza using the Sentinel system. Doctors will collect patients who have symptoms and send the pads for testing. These tests are used as a reference to estimate the prevalence of the virus in the population at large.
Williams said there are no plans to scale up the tests while the province still uses conventional laboratory tests, known as PCR, which are heavier than some of the new technologies coming to the market.
“We have no plans to do a population survey with the PCR at this stage, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t be planning anything in the future as we get more technology around the population surveys exposure to the coronavirus, “he said. said.
Not all of the epidemiologists interviewed by The Star agree with this premise, and some say that broader testing is needed in the general population, particularly because 30% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic.
When asked if Toronto was on the verge of smoothing the infection curve on Thursday, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s top public health worker, said it was difficult to know without further ado. tests.
“One of our challenges … is that unless you have reached a stage where you have a lot of tests, try to assess what is going on in the city of Toronto, based on the numbers existing and on the case. the figures and the information before us only give us a partial picture, “said de Villa.
Based on information from other cities, “we are not quite there yet” in terms of the maximum number of infections, she said. “It is not always easy to see that you are beyond the summit or at the top, until you are (further) beyond.
“To the extent that we can get more tests, it helps not only to shed light on the response, but also to inform us, as public health practitioners, of where we think we are on this epidemic curve and of the action we could then take. “