City expands COVID-19 testing criteria

People who live with health-care workers and who show even mild symptoms of COVID-19 are among those now eligible for testing at Ottawa's Brewer Arena assessment centre.

People living with health-care workers, caregivers now eligible for testing

Ottawa's COVID-19 assessment centre at Brewer Arena can now test more people for the respiratory illness, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) officials said during a teleconference Wednesday. 

"I can't yet advise that we have enough laboratory testing capacity to process anybody who has a fever and a cough but we do have room to go further than we have previously," said Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa Public Health, on Wednesday. 

Along with health-care workers and other essential employees, those eligible for testing now include people living with health-care workers, caregivers and first responders who show certain symptoms.

According to OPH, these people are recommended to be tested for COVID-19 if they have at least one common symptom (fever, cough, difficulty breathing), one less-common symptom (unexplained fatigue, delirium, falls, acute functional decline, worsening of chronic conditions, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, chills, headaches, croup, or loss of taste or smell), or a new or worsening respiratory symptom (sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing):

  • Health-care workers or staff who work at health-care facilities, and members of their households.
  • Residents and staff in long-term care homes, retirement homes, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, mental health institutions, hospices and other group living settings.
  • People in hospital, or who are likely to be hospitalized.
  • Members of remote, isolated, rural and/or Indigenous communities.
  • Caregivers and care providers.
  • First responders such as police, firefighters and paramedics.
  • Anyone in frequent contact with the health-care system, such as cancer patients, people receiving dialysis, pre- or post-transplant patients, pregnant women and newborns.

These people should be tested for COVID-19 if they have at least one common symptom of COVID-19 such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing:

  • Anyone who's been in close contact with a confirmed or probable case.
  • Returned international travellers who seek medical attention.
  • "Critical infrastructure workers" including those in grocery store, food services, maintenance, transportation and utilities.

Now all staff at as well as residents of long-term care and retirement homes where there is an outbreak can get testing, whether or not they have experienced symptoms, said Etches. 

New numbers offer hope

Meanwhile, more people have recovered from COVID-19 than have been diagnosed with the respiratory illness since OPH's last update, a small victory overshadowed by one more death linked to the pandemic.

In its daily update, issued earlier Wednesday, OPH confirmed 24 new cases, but said 27 more people have been deemed recovered.

That means 244 of Ottawa's 643 confirmed cases, or about 40 per cent, are now out of isolation.

No details have been released about the latest death, the city's 13th fatality attributed to the pandemic.

There are now just under 1,200 confirmed cases in the wider region of eastern Ontario and western Quebec, with 40 deaths. Public health officials have warned repeatedly there are likely thousands more undiagnosed cases.

More than 325 people have been listed as recovered or resolved in the wider region, but not every local health unit shares that data.

In Ottawa, there were 429 confirmed cases last Wednesday and 194 two weeks ago.

OPH tracks cases based primarily on when patients first experienced symptoms, rather than on the date they tested positive, which accounts for certain discrepancies in its figures.

Canada's top doctor pointed out Wednesday that the pace of infection seems to have slowed nationally, from the number of confirmed cases doubling every three days to every 10, a shift she called a reason for cautious optimism.