Ottawa looks to create more COVID-19 testing sites

Ottawa is getting more COVID-19 testing sites and people will soon be able to book swabbing appointments ahead of time, the city's top public health official says.

Wait times for tests can be up to 4 hours

Medical staff prepare for the opening of the COVID-19 assessment centre at the Brewer Park Arena in March. Ottawa Public Health says more centres will open in the city as demand for COVID-19 tests remains high. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ottawa is getting more COVID-19 testing sites and people will soon be able to book swabbing appointments ahead of time, the city's top public health official says.

There are currently three regular locations where residents can get tested for COVID-19 in Ottawa: the assessment centre at Brewer Park Arena and the two care clinics on Moodie Drive and Heron Road, which provide testing as well as medical services,

For Inuit in Ottawa, the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team can also provide COVID-19 assessment and testing.

The existing locations have been unable to meet the need for COVID-19 tests, said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, during a teleconference on Thursday.

"They are adding capacity, absolutely. They just aren't keeping up because the demand keeps growing," she said.

On three days this week, the testing centres swabbed more than 1,000 people — including one day when 1,278 tests were conducted, according to Ottawa Public Health data.

Some people have waited as long as four hours for tests, according to The Ottawa Hospital, one of the local hospitals that runs the testing centres.

Etches expects the demand for COVID-19 testing will only grow when students return to classrooms in the fall.

"We do need testing capacity for students and youth and teachers and workers when there's a case identified in a school," she said.

Plans to adapt to more demand

The Ottawa Hospital said in a written statement there are plans to expand the number of COVID-19 tests Ottawa is capable of administering in the coming weeks.

"Together with Ottawa Public Health and Ontario Health, the focus of the region is to expand our capacity as quickly as possible to support the increased demand," said the statement.

"Through increased staffing, hours of operation and planning for additional sites, the region continues to adjust the operation to accommodate the increasing demand."

Officials did not say Thursday where the sites would go.

A woman walks through downtown Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic. People in Ottawa have been waiting as long as four hours for a COVID-19 test, The Ottawa Hospital says. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Etches said the objective is to make COVID-19 testing a long-term service in the city, and that means hiring dedicated staff.

She expected more testing centres will be created and the system will move to an appointment-based model rather than simply a walk-in model. 

"It's a whole transition to a sustainable testing strategy," she said.

Ottawa Public Health still urges anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or who may have been in contact with a likely or positive case to get tested.

Tests should not, however, be used as permission slips to socialize more, Etches said.

It often takes days for a test to detect COVID-19, and even if people wait the necessary five days after a potential exposure, it's still possible to get infected in the intervening days before the test.

"A negative doesn't give a guarantee," Etches said. "Getting tested for COVID-19 is not a free pass to let your guard down."

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at

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