Premier Doug Ford says the province needs to start testing “everyone possible” for COVID-19 now that Ontario has the capacity to test as many as 13,000 people per day.
Ontario is dead last among all provinces when it comes to the number of people tested for the virus. Health officials in the province have until now advised that testing be primarily conducted on priority groups, including health care workers, first-responders, jail inmates, residents of Indigenous reserves and long-term care staff and residents.
“The days are done of these two or three thousand a day being tested,” Ford said at a news conference at Queen’s Park on Wednesday. “Moving forward we need to see 13,000 tests every single day.”
As of Wednesday, Ontario has tested 575 people per 100,000, a figure which greatly lags other provinces in the country. Every other Canadian province with more than one million residents has tested at least 1,000 people per 100,000 and Alberta has tested approximately 1,500 people per 100,000.
"I want to see every single long-term care facility tested, every patient," Ford said. "I want to see every frontline health care worker in this province tested along with the first responders—our police, our fire, our paramedics. We owe it to them."
Ford said his “patience has run thin” and there can be “no more excuses” for the province’s low rate of testing.
"We could sit here and I could give you a list all day long of what we hear from our team," the premier said.
"But we have to move forward and learn from our mistakes in the past."
One of the reasons previously given for the lack of testing in Ontario was a shortage of reagent, the chemical solution that is used with testing kits.
Ford said the province’s reagent supply has been replenished and Ontario needs to start ramping up testing immediately.
“We have the assessment sites ready, we have the testing capabilities right now, and we have the reagent. So there are no more excuses. We need to get it done, bottom line,” he added.
When asked if the province will change the testing criteria to include more than just priority groups, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said a “plan is in place” and details will be released shortly.
“There is a plan that we are in the process of implementing right now,” she said, adding that criteria has changed “slightly” for health care professionals.
“That will be another way that we will be able to expand our capacity very quickly.”
To date, Ontario has conducted just 84,601 tests compared to Quebec, which has tested close to 115,000. Alberta has conducted close to 70,000 tests since the beginning of the pandemic.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Ontario tested approximately 3,200 people for the virus, well below its capacity of 13,000.
Ford said the province has learned lessons from other countries that “tested and tested and tested” in an effort to help flatten the curve.
"South Korea slowed he spread and flattened the curve by doing one thing, I’m sure many things, but one thing stood out to all of us. They tested and they tested and they tested. Same with Germany… we are going to ramp it and surge the system," the premier said.
On Wednesday, Ontario reported 550 new cases of COVID-19, which is the biggest single-day increase so far. In total, there have been 5,276 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in Ontario. The province has confirmed 174 deaths linked to the virus so far but reporting from Ontario's 34 local public health units suggests the number actually exceeds 200.
'It is not a matter of who looks better,' Ontario's top doctor says
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the province is “working very hard” to ramp up testing.
“I think the bottom line is we want to do more testing – we are working very hard now to increase the testing and expand the criteria and encourage clinicians to test people where they are concerned the person has symptoms that may be indicative of COVID-19. We are very much hopeful that we will go up –we do have capacity, we need more testing,” she said on Wednesday at a news conference alongside Dr. David Williams, the province’s top doctor.
Williams said he doesn’t see the value of comparing Ontario to other province’s when it comes to testing numbers.
“When you do rates and comparisons… it is not a very valuable thing to do because you would have to really compare us to a province of the same size on how that’s going. I can say, compared to pretty well all of the provinces, including the ones that have some better rates, we have processed more tests than any other province,” Williams said.
“It is not a matter of who looks better. It is a matter of how collectively we are doing on a Canadian basis and are we together bending the curve for Canada because we are all in this."
When asked if he felt the premier was critical of the decisions he has made regarding testing, Williams said he and Ford both want to increase testing.
“I would see it more like… the captain saying, ‘You want this, I want this, so let’s make it happen.’ And we are saying, ‘Let’s go.’”
Williams said officials are still trying to figure out what is the best use of testing.
“Testing for the sake of testing and just racking up numbers that don’t give you any direction is not only a poor use of resources, it distracts you from getting the task done,” he said.
He added that the province wants to continue to focus on long-term care homes and other priority groups.
Williams said the number of people being tested at the province’s assessment centres has already been increased from 60 per cent to about 75 per cent.
“By bumping it up even further, we are hoping to max up on the lab-testing as best as possible,” he noted.
When asked about reports of people with influenza symptoms being turned away at assessment centres, Yaffe said some people who show up at those facilities may not be recommended for testing.
“People who have presented with those symptoms if they are very mild… in some instances because of the capacity issues, they have not been tested. They have been told go home and self-isolate,” she said.
“But people with significant symptoms like that have been tested and should be tested for COVID-19.”
Williams acknowledged that some people with the virus have likely been missed.
“In a population of 14 million, I would think there were some,” he said. “I have not seen that affect our overall mortality or morbidity rates.”
Provincial testing per capita*:
Ontario: 575 per 100,000
Alberta: 1521 per 100,000
Quebec: 1280 per 100,000
B.C.: 1006 per 100,000
Manitoba :1037 per 100,000
Saskatchewan: 1245 per 100,000
Nova Scotia: 1196 tests per 100,000
New Brunswick: 840 tests per 100,000
Newfoundland: 796 tests per 100,000
PEI: 644 tests per 100,000
*per capita figures are based on provincially reported testing totals