ccording to a government source, pharmacies will soon be able to offer PCR swab tests for people with COVID-19 symptoms and high-risk contacts of those who have been infected with the virus. These changes will be implemented as the seven-day average of daily infections in the province continues to increase, albeit at a slower pace than over the previous weeks.
Currently, pharmacies can only offer COVID-19 tests for individuals who do not have symptoms, who have not been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19, and who are not part of an outbreak investigation. Furthermore, COVID-19 testing offered at pharmacies is focused on residents, workers, and visitors of long-term care homes, as well as Indigenous individuals, and those who require out-of-country medical services.
As part of the new changes, pharmacies taking part in the program will provide free, in-store diagnostic testing and PCR self-collection kits. The pharmacies will also serve as drop-off points for at-home tests. Finally, pharmacies will have a dedicated space to perform the tests while adhering to physical distancing measures and ensuring sufficient time between tests to allow for disinfection.
Justin Bates, the CEO of Ontario Pharmacists Association, has referred to these changes as a “shift in thinking” to target individuals with COVID-19 symptoms because of the “low positivity rate of asymptomatic testing” after offering the test to asymptomatic individuals since September 2020.
“When you look at, even in a school scenario where there may be a single case, but close contacts, the rest of the children in that school need to be tested,” said Bates in his interview with CTV News.
He added that implementing this testing procedure in pharmacies will increase access and time to get results back, referring to it as a complimentary service, and not a replacement. “We’re not trying to take over or shutter any of the testing centres. This is going to add to, not take away,” said Bates.
Presently, approximately 1,300 of Ontario’s 4,700 pharmacies are targeted to opt-in for the voluntary program. According to recent data from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, the rate of growth in the transmission of the virus is slowing down.