Ottawa

Ottawa 'likely' to roll out pharmacy-administered COVID-19 tests next week, OPA chair says

Pharmacists in Ottawa could be ready to administer COVID-19 tests to people who are asymptomatic by late next week, which would help alleviate the excessive wait times at testing centres, according to the chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

Program aimed at reducing wait times at testing centres

A pharmacist counts prescription drugs in Ottawa in 2019. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is hoping that long lines for COVID-19 testing could be shortened once the province's pharmacists are able to test people who are asymptomatic. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Pharmacists in Ottawa could be ready to administer COVID-19 tests to people who are asymptomatic by late next week, which would help alleviate the excessive wait times at testing centres, according to the chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province's plans Friday to roll out pharmacy testing for COVID-19.

"We have the pharmacies coming on board, ramping up," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who was in Ottawa meeting with local leaders and three other conservative premiers to lobby for more federal money for health care.

"Hopefully by this time next week, we'll have numerous pharmacies out there helping out the system." 

The plan would see Ontario pharmacies, which have been allowed to provide flu shots to the public since 2012, also be permitted to test people who are asymptomatic.

Those with symptoms associated with COVID-19 would still be required to go to test centres run by local hospitals. 

The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) chair Jen Baker told CBC News Friday that Ottawa will likely be one of the locations where the new testing plan would be rolled out first.

"Ottawa has been identified as one of those communities with the high transmission, high number of cases of COVID-19, so it's a priority to give greater access to testing to that community," Baker said.

Baker told CBC News that one of the key differences between pharmacy testing and local testing centres is that pharmacies will be testing people who show no symptoms and have no known contact with anyone who has tested positive.

The new service could help shorten the hours-long wait times people have been experiencing this week at Ottawa's test centres, especially as local health authorities have said that the majority of people in line for a COVID-19 swab are asymptomatic and shouldn't be there.

"We are anticipating that a pharmacy program will help alleviate some of the burden on the testing centres and help reduce some of the wait times for patients who are looking to get tested for COVID-19 by creating that capacity," Baker said.

Baker said the number of pharmacies in Ottawa who will be administering tests is not yet known and says she is waiting for more details on the program from the province.

Mixed messages

Only those with symptoms, or who've been told by Ottawa Public Health to get tested because they've had close contact with someone who's positive, should be going to the centres.

People who want to visit family members in long-term care homes also need to get tests to show they're negative before they're let into the facility.

But there are mixed messages coming from authorities about who should get tested.

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, has repeatedly pleaded with people to not get tested for peace of mind because they're worried about a social event they've recently attended, or in advance of a family get-together.

However, on Friday, the premier encouraged everyone to get a COVID-19 test.

"We have the asymptomatic folks that may be anxious. You know they want to get tested, and God bless them — get tested."

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