Testing for COVID-19 in Canada is finally getting expanded in a number of provinces
Though Canada is conducting COVID-19 testing at a higher per capita rate than most other countries, there has still been much criticism of our testing methodology — especially in Ontario, where it seems that a lot of likely cases are being sent home to self-isolate undiagnosed and thus undocumented.
Amid growing concern about the issue, provincial leaders are now promising to do better.
So far, 361,969 individuals have been tested for the 2019 novel coronavirus nationwide, and we are certainly faring better amid the global pandemic than a lot of nations are, with the outbreak here at an earlier stage and growing at a slower rate than others.
Dr. Tam says Canada’s epidemic, the red curve, is in earlier stages compared to other countries. She says total case count has been increasing slower than other countries, in part due to learning from other outbreaks and early actions CAN took. pic.twitter.com/cNQTu4tnWn— Annie Bergeron-Oliver (@AnnieClaireBO) April 9, 2020
Still, while some provinces are testing close to 16,000 residents per million — such as Alberta — others are notably lagging behind.
Ontario, the country's most populated province, has tested only 5,952 people out of every million on average, and at a decreasing rate that now stands at less than 3,000 per day.
Ontario labs have a daily testing capacity around 13,000 total, though there has been an ongoing global shortage of COVID-19 nasal swab kits and issues acquiring enough of the necessary reagent chemicals.
Canada’s most populous province is Ontario, where I live. And shamefully this province has the narrowest protocols for testing for COVID. We are lagging massively behind all other provinces and supposedly have the capacity to test 13K per day. They are currently testing <3K— Wednesday Misener (@_nAtuReGrrL_) April 9, 2020
Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke on the issue at his press conferences on both Wednesday and Thursday, calling the current testing rate in the province "unacceptable" and vowing to ramp things up despite the practice of only testing frontline healthcare workers and the elderly in many parts of the country.
"We have to make sure we continue testing the general population... if someone has symptoms and comes in, we need to test them. That's the point we need to get to and we're going to be moving rapidly on this," he said.
Meanwhile in Nova Scotia, anyone with symptoms like a sore throat and runny nose coupled with a fever, cough and/or a headache is now able to access testing — perhaps the broadest criteria in the country.
And in Alberta, testing rules have just been expanded to include anyone with COVID-19-like respiratory symptoms within the Calgary area.
Also, essential service workers who are more exposed to the public are now eligible for testing province-wide, as are individuals who live with someone over the age of 65, given that the elderly may be more likely to be immunocompromised and have pre-existing health conditions.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, discussed new #COVID-19 testing protocols in Alberta to include many more people who weren't until now on the priority list #ableg pic.twitter.com/gWQ7cGl9Cy— CBC Edmonton (@CBCEdmonton) April 9, 2020
Quebec, too is dispatching more kits to seniors, saying that absolutely all residents and staff of long-term care homes will be tested.
In response to Ford's comments, Ontario has also slightly tweaked its testing guidelines, saying that any symptomatic resident of a retirement facility; symptomatic healthcare workers, first responders and care givers; and symptomatic residents of remote or indigenous communities should be tested.
Also, that testing kits should be distributed equally across the province, with the above demographics taking priority, along with symptomatic travellers and anyone referred to be tested by a local public health unit.
Unfortunately, a continuing shortage of kits means that many patients are likely to have the virus are still being turned away.
It is crucial for anyone in the country who presents with novel coronavirus symptoms and doesn't fit testing guidelines to stay home and self-quarantine, regardless of the lack of a positive diagnosis.
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