Essential worker Barry Sternberg was denied a COVID-19 test just last week in the peak of the pandemic’s third wave after one of his staff tested positive for COVID-19. “I was sitting in front of her, she had the test right there,” he said.
Sternberg owns an electrical contracting business and despite sharing an office space with the employee, he was denied a test because he hadn’t come in direct contact with this person, and wasn’t showing symptoms.
The province hasn’t updated its testing criteria for seven months. It was back in September 2020, when the province changed its testing approach: from anyone who wants a test can get a test – to specific criteria: people who are symptomatic, have had close contact with someone who has tested positive, are part of an outbreak investigation, or are part of a targeted high-risk group.
Their reason, at the time, was with the flu and cold season approaching, they wanted to ensure testing resources were available for those who need them the most.
“Considering the numbers, how high they are, anybody who wants to get tested should be able to get tested,” said Sternberg.
But in fact, there were more tests being completed during the peak of the second wave than the third, with an average 56,498 tests between January and February compared to 52,545 in the last month.
Dr. Colin Furness with the University of Toronto says COVID-19 testing is more important now than ever before, especially for essential workers.
“If we test them we can find infected people, infected families, we can isolate them, we can treat them, we can break transmission,” said Furness.
In an email sent to CityNews, Ontario Health said a number of factors could be contributing to lower testing volumes in recent weeks, including a Ministry of Health directive issued in February that shifts long-term care homes to rapid antigen testing, fewer long-term care home outbreaks requiring laboratory testing, and a shift in public demand.
The Ministry of Health said an update is coming later this week to see if there are any plans to shift the current criteria for COVID-19 testing.