The Ontario government has started to deploy rapid COVID-19 tests to hospitals, long-term care homes and regions of high-transmission as the province continues to combat a second wave of the novel coronavirus.
Premier Doug Ford along with his health minister and minister of long-term care made the announcement in Toronto Tuesday afternoon.
So far, the government has received roughly 98,000 ID NOW rapid tests and 1.2 million Panbio rapid antigen tests with another 1.5 million more Panbio tests expected by the end of November.
“The new rapid tests are game changers,” Ford said during an announcement at Humber River Hospital in Toronto on Tuesday. “These new tests can turnaround test results in minutes instead of days.”
Ford said both tests can provide results in under twenty minutes.
The ID NOW test detects the novel coronavirus using a nasal, nasopharyngeal or throat swab, while the Panbio test uses a nasopharyngeal swab only.
“I want to thank Health Canada for getting these in and then once it gets in, put them in the distribution center and we allocate it to the most vulnerable areas throughout Ontario, no matter if it’s northern rural areas, or the long-term care homes,” Ford said.
“We got the logistics down pat, they’re out there as we speak right now people are using them as we speak right now and the more that come in the more we’re going to get throughout the system,” he added.
The ID NOW tests are initially being used in hospitals and assessment centres in rural and remote communities, and to test people as part of early outbreak investigations in hot spot regions.
Two hospitals, Ottawa Hospital and Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in Orillia, Ont., are also using ID NOW tests, with 20 more hospitals preparing to launch rapid testing, according to the government.
“We have moved these tests out as quickly as possible, making sure that we do the necessary examination of the ones that have been received making sure that they’re ready to go, then making sure that we have the right allocations going to the right places,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said at the press conference.
Ford commented on the significance of these rapid tests in the health-care system as infections are on the rise across the province, particularly in the hot spots of Toronto and Peel Region, which both entered the “lockdown” zone of the government’s COVID-19 response framework on Monday.
“Over the next few weeks dozens of our long-term care homes will use these tests to test staff and visitors to keep our long-term care residents safe while ensuring essential caregivers can continue to visit and worry less about endangering their loved ones,” Ford said.
ID NOW tests are currently being distributed in Simcoe Muskoka, Southewestern Ontario and Eastern Ontario. The government says the program will be expanded to other areas of the province next month.
Plans are in the works to roll out the rapid tests to Toronto and Peel and the government said it’s collaborating with Ontario Health and local public health units to eventually deploy the tests across the province. The government did not say how long it will take for the rapid tests to be deployed across the whole province.
Meanwhile, the Panbio rapid tests will support a screening program for long-term care homes and other workplaces.
The government says the Panbio tests have already been deployed to six long-term care operators for potential roll out to more than 30 long-term care homes, 27 retirement homes, eight hospitals and 11 industry partners, including Ontario Power Generation, Air Canada and Magna.
The Panbio rapid tests will also be used in an eight-week pilot for participating employers in the private, public and non-profit sectors.
“This pilot program is an important opportunity to learn about the value of antigen screening for asymptomatic workers in a range of workplace settings, and will inform future decisions about safely and fully reopening the economy,” Elliott said.
The deployment of rapid tests comes as the province reported 1,009 new COVID-19 tests on Tuesday. But the Ministry of Health says the new infections reported today are an underestimate and the 1,589 cases reported on Monday are an overestimate due to technical issues with data collection.
When averaging out new infections reported over the last two days, Ontario saw 1,299 cases on both Monday and Tuesday. The rolling seven-day average of new cases is now 1,395, down from 1,421 a week ago.
The government did not say if it has plans to roll out rapid tests to schools across the province even though cases continue to climb in school and child care settings.
On Tuesday, public health officials reported 270 new cases of the virus in Ontario schools. However, a spokesperson for the minister of education said the latest data is “a reflection of over three days of data and includes any cases identified in schools on Friday from 2 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and Monday until 2 p.m.” It also includes cases from some boards that did not report to the ministry on Friday due to a P.D. day.
On Monday, more than 37,400 tests were completed by provincial health officials, with an average of 32,285 tests processed on both Monday and Tuesday, well below the province’s goal of 50,000 tests per day.