'My reaction...was to laugh hysterically': Ontarians bemoan the lack of availability in rapid tests as distribution grows across Canada

·6 min read
'My reaction...was to laugh hysterically': Ontarians bemoan the lack of availability in rapid tests as distribution grows across Canada

With a record breaking number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, many in the province are bemoaning the fact that finding a rapid-antigen test (RAT) or booking an appointment for an PCR isn’t an easy feat.

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced it would distribute 140 million RATs across Canada in the month of January. That’s four times the number that was distributed in the country over the month of December. However, in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has prioritized disturbing the RATS to places like “workplaces, hospitals, home and community care, long-term care and retirement homes, as well as schools and child care centres.”

On Thursday, the Ontario government announced additional details on a new rapid testing strategy. It said RATs would be recommended for three specific categories of people. The first would be part of "test to work" strategies for employees that are in high-risk settings, like hospitals, long-term-care centres and retirement homes, as well as schools, in order to allow people who would otherwise have to self-isolate, to return to work early with a negative result.

The second group is for people without symptoms but for screening and for people with symptoms who were previously expected to get a PCR test before Ontario's PCR capacity became overwhelmed. The RATs are not recommended for one-off testing, such as taking one before a social event, due to the risk of false negatives.

Finally, RATs are recommended for people with symptoms. If a test shows the person is positive, they and their family members must self-isolate. If two consecutive RATs, taken between 24-48 hours, are both negative, the symptomatic person is less likely to be infected, but are advised to self-isolate until symptoms are shown to improve for at least 24 hours.

Anyone who tests positive with a RAT are no longer required to confirm their status with a PCR test.

In late December, Ontario’s guidelines on eligibility and protocols for testing changed as COVID-19 numbers rapidly spiked. Currently, publicly funded PCR testing is only available to those considered high risk, who are symptomatic, and/or at risk of severe illness from the virus, as well as workers and residents in high risk settings. People who have mild symptoms are being asked not to seek testing.

A list of those who are eligible for testing can be found here.

While the Ontario government addressed the new testing protocols, many on social media expressed their frustrations about the lack of ways to easily access a rapid test.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said "finding a rapid test in Ontario right now is like a Where's Waldo exercise," adding she had "no confidence whatsoever" in the premier's distribution plans.

Rudy Cuzzetoo, MPP for Mississauga-Lakeshore noted on Twitter that Ontario was the only province to procure their own supply of rapid tests, which they distribute to the general public, as well as places like hospitals and long-term care homes.

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