Last week, in an effort to enhance COVID-19 testing capabilities province-wide, the Ontario government announced that people will be granted access to COVID-19 testing at select, local pharmacies.
Around 60 pharmacies were initially confirmed to commence testing at locations in the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, and Huntsville, but, after London’s mayor, Ed Holder, contacted Premier Doug Ford and explained the immense need for a greater testing capacity in the city to limit the lengthy wait times commonly experienced in the area’s two public assessment centres, it was added to the location list.
Andrew Hanna from Cornwall, Ontario, is a fully licensed and registered Part A Pharmacist with the Ontario College of Pharmacy. He provides his insight into Ontario’s new initiative to test patients for COVID-19 in pharmacies.
There are currently 150 COVID-19 assessment centres across the province of Ontario. In April, when the pandemic started to pick up, daily testing numbers were well below 10,000 and people were turned away from testing, despite the fact that many were symptomatic. There are now more than 30,000 tests completed daily.
The rising demand for tests came shortly after the reopening of schools earlier in the month, says Andrew Hanna. This has resulted in long line ups and a severe backlog in testing. In fact, it was reported on September 23 that in Ottawa, the city’s two care clinics both reached capacity within minutes of opening and one assessment centre said that people with no symptoms would be turned away.
As a result of the demand, the province announced that 60 pharmacies across the province would be conducting tests for patients that fit a set of criteria. This criteria includes being in direct contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19; living or working in a setting that is deemed to carry risk (long-term care home or homeless shelter); intending to visit a long-term care home in the foreseeable future; working or residing in a particular outbreak site; and qualifying for testing within a targeted testing initiative, a determination made either by the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Long-Term Care. COVID-19 tests, available by appointment only at these pharmacies, can be provided to residents who are asymptomatic, though priority will be given to individuals who are in urgent need.
Andrew Hanna says that a pharmacist’s role in battling the pandemic is now more important than ever, as we are seeing a dramatic rise in new cases daily and we are now in a second wave.
Andrew Hanna on Pharmacists Working Alongside Other Front Line Workers
Ontario Premier Doug Ford recently noted that we rely on pharmacists for our flu shots, prescriptions, and important health advice for ourselves and our families and that it only made sense to engage them as key partners in delivering more COVID-19 testing.
As a pharmacist himself, Andrew Hanna believes that pharmacists have a key role to play in allowing more Ontario residents to get tested, reducing limits at assessment centres to ensure that those who are symptomatic can get tested easily, and ensuring our healthcare system isn’t overloaded by encouraging all patrons to get their annual flu shot.
The Ontario government’s new plan, entitled “Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19”, aims to maintain disciplined public health measures, reduce health service backlogs, prepare for surges in cases, identify, manage, and prevent potential outbreaks, and recruit an abundance of support health care workers in what will, supposedly, turn out to be the largest flu immunization campaign in the province’s history.