The province of Ontario will begin offering COVID-19 testing at up to 60 pharmacies as of this Friday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says the testing is for asymptomatic people and will be by appointment only. People will have to undergo pre-test screening to ensure they have no symptoms before being tested. There will be no charge for the test.
The government says the initiative will reduce pressure on the province’s 147 assessment centres, some of which have seen long line-ups in recent weeks.
“We are prepared for the worst and our fall plan reflects that,” said Elliott. “This is another key element of our fall plan, building excess capacity and access for testing and so we are very fortunate that Shoppers, Rexall and the independent pharmacies have stepped up. We are very grateful for that because it will make a significant difference for us in being able to increase our testing volumes and not having people stand in line for hours to have a test.”
The testing initiative is the second part of the government’s fall pandemic preparedness plan.
Premier Ford reiterated that Women’s College, Mount Sinai and University Health Network―Toronto Western Hospital assessment centres will be offering saliva testing this week, however, no definitive date on when that would commence was announced.
Ford lashed out at federal officials for the lack of approvals when it comes to saliva tests.
“We’ve been waiting for months for these antigen tests, the saliva test,” said an exasperated Ford, who acknowleged the hard work being done by federal officials. “They need to start moving on this. This is what’s affecting the whole system. Nothing is more important to the people of Ontario right now than getting Health Canada to approve the test.”
“I’m hearing crickets. I’m hearing nothing. Silence.”
Watch: Ford slams Health Canada for not approving COVID-19 saliva tests
A union representing hospital workers raised concerns that pharmacy testing could bring people with the virus in contact with vulnerable seniors or other medically compromised people.
“Sending the public to a pharmacy and mingling with people who fear that they have COVID-19, and may be symptomatic, seems to me to be unwise and potentially not very safe,” said Michael Hurley, president of the Council of Hospital Unions, a branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
But the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacist Association said testing can be conducted safely in pharmacies.
“The initial phase was meant to be small to so that we could do this in a safe way and learn from the initial roll out and make any tweaks necessary as we go more province-wide,” Justin Bates said.
Pharmacies have put pandemic infection-control protocols in place to protect their staff and patrons, but some locations may still decide not to participate in the voluntary program, he said.
“This won’t be for everyone,” Bates said. “Those that don’t have the appropriate staffing levels or the footprint in order to maintain physical distancing and having a private room to conduct the test may not participate.”
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, offered muted praise for the decision to expand testing to pharmacies.
He said enlisting pharmacies located far away from hospitals and other assessment centres will have a positive impact on sample collection, but will also add to the strain on testing labs that are already struggling to keep up with their current workload.
A further influx of testing samples, he said, risks delaying result wait times and contact tracing efforts, which in turn could undermine efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
“We’re only addressing one half of the problem,” he said. “… The problem that really needs solving is lab capacity now. If the pharmacies work really, really well we’re going to start to have long delays to get test results. As soon as that happens, we have lost control.”
The province said Wednesday it processed 35,436 tests over the previous day, with another 48,079 under investigation.
Here is the list of pharmacies that will make COVID-19 testing available to asymptomatic people:
Rexall, Unit A01 – 545 Steeles Avenue West
Shoppers Drug Mart, 160 Main Street South
Shoppers Drug Mart, 10665 Bramalea Road
Shoppers Drug Mart, 34 A Avondale Boulevard
Shoppers Drug Mart, 366 Main Street North
Shoppers Drug Mart, 10048 McLaughlin Road
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1 Kennedy Road South
Shoppers Drug Mart, 3938 Cottrelle Boulevard
Shoppers Drug Mart, 11965 Hurontario Street, Brampton
Shoppers Drug Mart, 51 King William Street
Rexall, 90 Copper Creek Drive
Shoppers Drug Mart, 6975 Meadowvale Town Centre Circle
Shoppers Drug Mart, 101 – 5602 Tenth Line West
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1 – 5425 Creditview Road
Shoppers Drug Mart, 7070 Mclaughlin Road
Shoppers Drug Mart, 579 Lakeshore Road East
Shoppers Drug Mart, 3980 Grand Park Drive
Shoppers Drug Mart, 2470 Hurontario Street
Shoppers Drug Mart, 700 Burnhamthorpe Road East
Cedarview Pharmacy, 12 – 4100 Strandherd Drive, Nepean
Medicine Shoppe 143, 19 – 5303 Canotek Road
Rexall, 1615 Orleans Boulevard, Orleans
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1180 Walkley Road
Shoppers Drug Mart, 647 Earl Armstrong Road
Shoppers Drug Mart, 455 Bank Street
Shoppers Drug Mart, 541 Montreal Road
Shoppers Drug Mart, 3940 Innes Road, Orleans
Shoppers Drug Mart, 2954 St. Joseph Boulevard, Orleans
Shoppers Drug Mart. 1937 Portobello Boulevard, Orleans
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1 – 2148 Carling Avenue
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1309 Carling Avenue
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1102 Klondike Road, Kanata
Medicine Shoppe 134, 2600 Eglinton Avenue West
Rexall, 4459 Kingston Road, Scarborough
Rexall, 250 Wincott Drive
Rexall, 901 Eglinton Avenue West
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1630 Danforth Avenue
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1601 Bayview Avenue, East York
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1027 Yonge Street
Shoppers Drug Mart, 3446 Dundas Street West
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1400 Dupont Street
Shoppers Drug Mart, 360A Bloor Street West
Shoppers Drug Mart, 123 Rexdale Boulevard, Etobicoke
Shoppers Drug Mart, 900 Albion Road, Etobicoke
Shoppers Drug Mart, 4841 Yonge Street, North York
Shoppers Drug Mart, 5095 Yonge Street
Shoppers Drug Mart, 3874 Bathurst Street, North York
Shoppers Drug Mart, 2550 Finch Avenue West, North York
Shoppers Drug Mart, 2751 Eglinton Avenue East, Scarborough
Shoppers Drug Mart, 629 Markham Road, Scarborough
Shoppers Drug Mart, 2301 Kingston Road, Scarborough
Shoppers Drug Mart, Unit A -1780 Markham Road, Scarborough
Village Square Pharmacy, 2942 Finch Avenue East
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report