Retirement home company restricts visitors over rapid test shortage, Omicron fears

Symphony Senior Living says the Ontario government is not providing its facilities with enough rapid tests ahead of a mandated requirement to step up testing.

Homes mandated to step up rapid testing of visitors beginning Wednesday

Symphony Senior Living says the Ontario government is not providing its facilities with enough COVID-19 rapid antigen tests ahead of a mandated requirement to step up testing that kicks in on Wednesday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Four retirement homes in the Ottawa area have clamped down on visitors only days before Christmas in part because they're short on COVID-19 rapid antigen tests supplied by the Ontario government. 

Symphony Senior Living, the company that owns the retirement homes, notified its residents' families of the change on Friday. Only vaccinated essential caregivers are being allowed inside the homes, which are located in Kanata, Orléans and Carleton Place.

As of Monday morning, the restrictions remained in place as the homes awaited an order of additional tests. 

Concern about the Omicron variant and a rising number of COVID-19 cases in Ottawa and Kingston also prompted the last-minute move, said Lisa Brush, the company's president and founder.

The company also took the step after one staff member tested positive from a rapid test, but that person then tested negative on a PCR test, Brush said. 

Mandated rapid testing of visitors kicks in Wednesday

Brush said the home ordered 700 more tests for its homes from the province last Thursday.

Two of the four homes were down to five tests each as of late Sunday, she said. 

More tests are needed as retirement homes in Ontario will need to screen general visitors and support workers with rapid tests beginning Wednesday, regardless of their vaccination status, under new rules announced by the province last week

"The problem was our stock was going to run out if we maintain the level of general visitors, so we decided to focus on staff and essential caregivers until we get those tests and see what happens," Brush said. 

"Waiting a whole weekend full of, potentially, visitors carrying [the virus] and being asymptomatic just seemed too much of a risk for everybody."

Symphony Senior Living owns four retirement homes in the Ottawa area, including this facility in Orléans. (CBC News)

Not a widespread problem, association says

Brush said it's frustrating for the province to come out with an enhanced testing mandate "and we're not prepared to back the mandate up with the rapid tests or the supplies that are needed, and we can't go on the public market to just buy them." 

CBC News reached out to the Ministry of Health on Saturday but had not received comment before publish time. 

Cathy Hecimovich, the CEO of the Ontario Retirement Communities Association, said she does not think this is a widepsread issue. 

"I haven't heard of a problem anywhere else," she said. "We're highly prioritized for distribution of tests, so I'm assuming [the additional deliveries] will happen very quickly."

Brush said Symphony Senior Living hopes it can relax visitation rules before Christmas provided its homes receive enough rapid tests on time. 


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa

Guy Quenneville is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He can be reached at