Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Province investing $1-billion to expand COVID-19 testing & contact tracing

The Ontario government is building on the “largest provincial testing initiative in Canada” by providing $1.07-billion to expand COVID-19 testing and case and contact management.

They have also provided an update on COVID-19 testing guidelines and expanded COVID-19 testing to some pharmacies.

$1-billion invested

On top of the $1-billion invested, Provincial officials say the government is immediately investing $30-million to prevent and manage outbreaks in priority sectors, including the province’s long-term care homes, retirement homes and schools.

These investments are part of the province’s comprehensive plan to prepare the health system for a second wave of COVID-19.

Details were provided on Thursday, September 24, 2020 by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health.

“We’ve put over $1-billion on the table to help track, trace and isolate cases of COVID-19 through the largest and most robust pandemic testing initiative in the country,” stated Premier Ford in a press release.

“By ramping up our daily testing capacity to 50,000 tests and closely monitoring our long-term care homes and schools, we can quickly respond to any outbreaks and surges and stop the spread of this deadly virus in its tracks.”

Expanding testing and case and contact management

Provincial officials say a critical part of Ontario’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan is encouraging people to continue to adhere to foundational public health measures and monitor public health trends carefully.

That’s why the province is investing $1.07 billion to enhance and expand efforts to test, trace and isolate new cases of COVID-19.

“As part of our plan to ensure the health system’s readiness for future waves of COVID-19, our government is dramatically expanding our testing capacity, launching more testing locations and adding more case and contact management resources to trace and isolate new cases,” stated Minister Elliott in a press release.

“In doing so, we will also support long-term care homes, schools and hospitals to effectively prevent, track and contain outbreaks of COVID-19.”

Provincial officials say to date, Ontario has maintained adherence to public health measures and established a strong foundation for testing and case and contact management by:

– Establishing a provincial COVID-19 lab network with capacity for more than 40,000 daily tests;

– Establishing over 150 assessment centres;

– Testing long-term care home residents and staff in addition to the ongoing testing of staff and homes in outbreak;

– Providing up to 1,700 more contact tracers to support public health units in contact follow-ups through an agreement with the federal government;

– Launching a new, custom-built case and contact management digital system to improve data quality and timeliness and eliminate the use of the multiple tools being used across the province and the integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS) for COVID-19;

– Launching COVID Alert, the country’s made-in-Ontario exposure notification app; and

– Launching a robust public awareness campaign to educate the public on how to keep them and their families safe, including targeted campaigns to young Ontarians.

Provincial officials say building on these efforts, Ontario will strengthen public health measures and continue to expand testing and case and contact management through the following:

More Testing Locations: Working with Ontario Health, local public health units and hospitals, Ontario will expand testing locations based on local needs to provide Ontarians with more access to testing and reduce testing wait times. This will include adding more testing locations such as primary care offices, at-home testing for certain home and community care clients, and starting on Friday, September 25, 2020, in participating pharmacies.

More Testing Options: Ontario will ensure health professionals can provide more people with timely and convenient tests by expanding the methods for COVID-19 testing. Less invasive collection methods, such as throat, nasal swabbing and saliva collection will now be used in addition to nasopharyngeal swabs to test for COVID-19. Starting this week, three Ontario hospitals are offering saliva collection, with more assessment centres offering this option in the coming weeks. The province continues to review innovative technologies, such as rapid and point of care tests, to ensure Ontarians have access to leading and faster testing options.

More Testing Capacity: Ontario will continue to expand the capacity of the provincial lab network so more tests can be processed and testing targets can be achieved. This includes hiring more lab staff and professional staff and improving data quality through digitizing requisition forms and other automated features. As a first step, the province will increase testing capacity to conduct up to 50,000 daily tests.

More Case and Contact Managers: Ontario will continue to add case and contact management staff to prevent the spread of the virus. There are currently more than 2,750 case and contact management staff active across all public health units tracing and managing COVID-19 cases, up from approximately 1,500 staff in the spring. An additional 500 Statistics Canada employees are being onboarded this month to assist with contact management and Ontario is hiring an additional 500 contact tracers. In total, there will be more than 3,750 case and contact management staff working to keep Ontarians safe.

Better Health Behaviour Information: Ontario will conduct health behaviour surveillance to track adherence to public health measures across Ontario and to help understand how to better communicate the importance and benefit of continuing to follow public health measures.

To measure success in these efforts, Ontario will track progress against the following:

– Faster turnaround time for testing: 80 per cent of test results delivered within 48 hours.

– Maintain test positivity rate under three per cent;

– Ensure sufficient case management and contact tracing capacity to continue reaching 90 per cent of cases within 24 hours; and

– Compliance with public health measures (based on health behaviour surveillance data).

In support of these efforts, the province has also released new testing guidance to help focus public resources on where they are needed the most.

Quickly Identify, Manage and Prevent Outbreaks

With the flu and cold season approaching and a potential second wave of COVID-19, Ontario will invest $30 million to build on its efforts to rapidly identify and contain any COVID-19 outbreaks.

To date, Ontario has worked to improve outbreak prevention and management by:

– Deploying hospital infection prevention and control (IPAC) resources to provide ongoing support to long-term care homes;

– Naming Dr. Dirk Huyer as Coordinator of Provincial Outbreak Response to work collaboratively with all ministries, the Chief Medical Officer of Health and public health units to prevent, minimize and manage outbreaks, including in schools, long-term care homes, retirement homes, child care centres, farms and hospitals;

– Developing a COVID-19 surveillance strategy to monitor the disease and detect cases and outbreaks in a timely manner, including in long-term care homes and schools; and

– Launching a new, custom-built case and contact management digital system for rapid identification of cases to speed up outbreak management response times.

Ontario will continue to improve outbreak management through the following:

– More than $510 million provided through the Social Services Relief Fund to municipal Service Managers and Indigenous Program Administrators to protect vulnerable populations, including supporting physical distancing and enhanced infection control measures in congregate settings and isolation facilities;

– Emergency Management Ontario has developed and distributed an outbreak guidance toolkit to support each ministry’s outbreak management planning, ensuring strong sector responses; and

– Stress-testing outbreak response protocols and structures through virtual simulation exercises that have been held across the province to address outbreaks in schools, universities and correctional facilities. Additional scenario planning exercises are focusing on Indigenous communities, long-term care homes and retirement homes.

As Ontario works to contain and prevent outbreaks, the province will measure success using the following criteria:

– Rapid containment of outbreaks; and

– Fewer outbreaks in congregate and other high-risk settings, including long-term care homes.

The province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19, will help the province quickly identify, prevent and respond to any scenario in order to protect communities.

The Keeping Ontarians Safe plan will:

– Maintain strong public health measures, including continued expansion of testing and case and contact management;

– Quickly identify, manage and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks;

– Accelerate efforts to reduce health service backlogs;

– Prepare for surges in COVID-19 cases;

– Recruit, retain, train and support health care workers, while also continuing to engage families and caregivers; and

– Implement the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.

Ontario updates COVID-19 testing guidelines

On Thursday, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health issued the following statement outlining updated COVID-19 testing guidelines for Ontario:

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario has adhered to public health measures and established a strong foundation for testing and case and contact management that allowed us to rapidly identify and contain any COVID-19 outbreaks.

To support this, Ontario established a provincial COVID-19 lab network with capacity for more than 40,000 daily tests.

As the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed, the province must also adapt its approach to testing.

With the upcoming flu and cold season approaching, we need to ensure Ontario’s publicly-funded testing resources are available for those who need them the most, such as school children and others with symptoms of COVID-19.

That’s why, in consultation with health experts and Ontario’s Testing Strategy Expert Panel, Dr. David Williams and I have recommended Ontario update testing guidelines to prioritize those who are at the greatest risk, while shifting away from untargeted asymptomatic testing.

Publicly-funded testing will be available and easily accessible for those who are symptomatic, have had close contact with a confirmed case, or are part of an outbreak investigation.

In addition, testing will continue to be available on a targeted basis for specific asymptomatic individuals who are at greater risk due to their health condition or employment, at the direction of the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

Evolving our testing guidance in this way will support timely access to testing for those who need it.

Effective immediately, Ontarians should only seek testing at assessment centres if you are:

– Showing COVID-19 symptoms;

– Have been exposed to a confirmed case of the virus, as informed by your public health unit or exposure notification through the COVID Alert app;

– A resident or work in a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak, as identified and informed by your local public health unit; and

– Eligible for testing as part of a targeted testing initiative directed by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

Starting on September 25, you can get tested for COVID-19 at select pharmacies if you are not showing symptoms and eligible for testing as part of a targeted testing initiative directed by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

Our best defence against COVID-19 is still to follow all public health measures like practicing physical distancing, wearing face masks and staying home when ill even with mild symptoms, so we can stop the spread.

As Ontario continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, Ontario’s Testing Strategy Expert Panel and Public Health Ontario will continue to actively review testing guidelines.

Testing continues to be available at any of the province’s 150 assessment centres currently open, and at participating pharmacies starting this Friday. To find the closest pharmacy or assessment centre, please visit Ontario.ca/covidtest.”

Ontario expands COVID-19 testing to pharmacies

The Ontario government is providing people with convenient and timely access to free COVID-19 testing at pharmacies in the province.

As of Friday, up to 60 pharmacies in Ontario will begin offering testing by appointment only, with further locations coming online in the coming weeks.

This initiative will expand testing capacity well beyond the province’s 150 assessment centres.

Details were provided on Wednesday by Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

“We rely on our pharmacists for our flu shots, prescriptions, and important health advice for ourselves and our families,” stated Premier Ford in a press release.

“It makes sense to engage them as key partners in delivering more COVID-19 testing. I have to thank Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall, and the independent pharmacies who have stepped up in a big way to help expand testing to more people in the province. With everyone pitching in, we are well on our way to reaching our goal of 50,000 tests a day and stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Pharmacies may choose to provide testing for Ontarians who have no COVID-19 symptoms, Provincial officials say.

Individuals, within provincial testing guidance, will be able to visit select pharmacies by appointment only, and they will be pre-screened and then tested at no charge.

When visiting a pharmacy Ontarians should continue to follow COVID-19 public health measures, including wearing a face covering, frequent handwashing, and maintaining physical distance from those outside their household or social circle.

“As part of our plan to ensure that we are ready for future waves of COVID-19, our government is working with pharmacies to help expand testing for Ontarians,” said Minister Elliott in a press release.

“With a recent increase in the number of cases, we are making sure people have more options for testing to identify cases of COVID-19 early. We must not let our guard down. Our best defense is still to follow all public health measures like practising physical distancing, wearing face masks and staying home when ill, so we can stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The expansion of COVID-19 testing to pharmacies is part of the province’s comprehensive plan to prepare the health system for a second wave of COVID-19.

Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19 will help the province quickly identify, prevent and respond to any scenario in order to protect communities.

In addition, Women’s College, Mount Sinai and University Health Network―Toronto Western Hospital assessment centres will be offering saliva testing this week.

More assessment centres will offer this less invasive method in the coming weeks, giving Ontarians more options to access testing for COVID-19.

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