Rapid COVID-19 tests coming to Ottawa businesses

Small-and-medium-sized businesses in Ottawa will soon get access to thousands of rapid COVID-19 tests intended to better track asymptomatic cases.

Program to start at the end of May

One of the four types of rapid antigen tests available in Ontario. The Ottawa Board of Trade is hoping out 50,000 rapid COVID-19 tests to local businesses with 150 employees or fewer by the end of May. (Robert Short/CBC)

Small-and-medium-sized businesses in Ottawa will soon get access to thousands of rapid COVID-19 tests intended to better track asymptomatic cases.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has partnered with both the federal and provincial governments to provide 700,000 rapid tests to businesses in Ontario. 

In the nation's capital, the Ottawa Board of Trade is preparing to hand out the first shipment of 50,000 tests for free during the last week of May.

"One-third of infections are asymptomatic and 55 per cent of all confirmed cases have caught it from an asymptomatic carrier," said Sueling Ching, the board's president and CEO. 

"So our goal is to find the asymptomatic carriers as much as possible. And this test is designed to add an additional layer of protection among the other protocols that businesses are already employing."

The program is being administered through boards of trade and business chambers throughout Ontario. It's aimed at businesses with 150 employees or less, as larger businesses can order tests directly from the government. 

While all eligible businesses are welcome to a test kit, Ching said the program is targeting those that are essential or have "high-touch" areas.

"Really, all businesses are essential to the rebound of our economy," Ching said. "And so we're hoping all businesses will participate."

Ivan Gedz, co-owner of Union Local 613, says he's open to the idea but wonders about the timing. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Questions from businesses

Ivan Gedz, owner of Ottawa restaurant Union Local 613, said he's open to the idea — but he does have some concerns.

"I think one of the difficulties with regards to these rapid tests is their efficacy…that they are not as accurate as regular testing mechanisms," he said.

The timing is also questionable, Gedz said, given that indoor dining in Ontario is currently off-limits until at least May 20.

He predicts it won't be until mid-June that bars and restaurants will welcome patrons again, and then only on patios. By that point, many people will have had at least one vaccine dose, Gedz said.

"I just don't know how much of an uptake there would be for something like that, given what the situation is going to look like at that time,"

Still, Gedz said he would be willing to accept the free rapid tests if his staff were also on board.

As for why the tests weren't offered earlier in the pandemic, Ching said she believes the various levels of governments involved had the supply but not a way to distribute them. 


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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