COVID-19 testing centres here to stay despite low case counts

Despite the drop in case numbers, access to COVID-19 testing centres will likely continue through the summer and could ramp up in September, according to the people behind Ottawa's testing strategy. 

More people getting tested since Ontario entered second stage of reopening

Melanie Donnelly is a health-care worker testing children for COVID-19 at Ottawa's Brewer Arena. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Despite a drop in the number of Ottawa residents testing positive for COVID-19, testing centres will likely remain open through the summer and could ramp up by September, according to organizers of Ottawa's testing task force.

"I think that we have to not kid ourselves that there isn't still this potential risk," said Dr. Ken Farion, the operations lead on the team behind Ottawa's testing strategy.

Farion, who is also an emergency physician at CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, said while there's clearly "light at the end of the tunnel," there remain concerns about spread of the delta variant.

The main issue is the number of people who have not been fully vaccinated or choose not to be vaccinated, leaving the potential for outbreaks, he said.

"It can smolder and then flare up at anytime. So this is a risk and we have to learn how to manage that risk," said Farion.

Dr. Ken Farion, an emergency room doctor at CHEO, is also the operations lead on the Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Taskforce. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Ottawa's testing task force manages five assessment centres for testing, including a site at the Brewer Park arena for those younger than 18. There is also testing available at three community health centres and a pop-up site at the Vanier Community Service Centre. 

Assessment centres also accept appointments for those seeking required tests for travel, but the patient needs to pay for that test.

The number of daily tests in Ottawa reached an all-time high on April 14 with close to 4,000 swabs sent to labs for analysis. By June, the number of tests dipped to below 1,000 per day with frequent days below 700.

Farion said the combination of the lockdown, the closure of schools, plus an increase in vaccinations likely led to lower testing numbers, but test totals have inched back up since Ontario entered the second stage of reopening two weeks ago. 

On Monday, there were 1,017 swabs processed from Ottawa testing centres, according to the task force.

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Access to testing needed

Dr. Farion said positive case numbers have not increased, but the need for testing could continue to surpass 1,000 a day as more people return to work and children get involved in activities like camp, which forces anyone with symptoms to get tested as part of COVID-19 protocols. 

Amber McOuatt says she is happy to see access to testing remain available. She has brought her five-year-old son for four tests during the pandemic.

"That way if we need to test our children, we can book them the same day," said McOuatt, whose son needed a negative test result to attend a special day-school.

Amber McOuatt and her son Silas, 5, have been to the testing centre four times since the pandemic began. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The province ultimately pays the costs associated with testing, but most of the staff come from Ottawa hospitals. The pressure has begun to build to repatriate health-care workers to help alleviate the pandemic backlog in patient-care demands.

Farion says the city remains committed to offer as many as 1,600 tests a day with no change anticipated while testing needs remain above a thousand a day.  

"If [community] demand drops ... we'll look to further decrease that capacity."

Organizers expect an increase in testing demand as children get set to return to in-person learning, but there are many unknowns, according to Farion, such as which symptoms force children to be tested, and whether those who are fully vaccinated will require a test at all.

Donnelly hands a family member the information needed to receive the result of a COVID-19 test. (Jean Delisle/CBC)


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