Ottawa COVID-19 testing sites can't keep up with demand, new rules expected

New guidance that will prioritize vulnerable populations and essential workers for COVID-19 testing is imminent, says Ottawa's COVID-19 Testing Taskforce.

Self-isolation required for anyone experiencing symptoms, public health officials say

Families walk toward the COVID-19 assessment centre at Brewer Arena in Ottawa on Dec. 2, 2021. (Stu Mills/CBC)

The Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Taskforce says new guidance for COVID-19 testing, which will prioritize vulnerable populations and essential workers, will be here soon.

The anticipated update comes as public health officials in Ottawa say they're dealing with high demand for COVID-19 tests due to soaring case counts as the highly transmissible Omicron variant takes hold.

Testing sites "cannot keep up with demand," Ottawa Public Health said in a tweet Monday.

Appointments for adults to get molecular testing on Tuesday and Wednesday were fully booked as of Monday, although the Brewer Arena test site was accommodating walk-ins. The Ottawa Hospital releases appointments through its online portal two days in advance.

Before the new guidance takes effect, the taskforce says people who are unable to access a molecular test must self-isolate regardless of vaccination status if they:

  • Have testing positive on a rapid antigen test.
  • Have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.
  • Are a household member of someone who has tested positive.
  • Are experiencing, or have someone in their household experiencing, any symptoms of COVID-19.

The taskforce says staff are working overtime to increase testing capacity in Ottawa.

Kelly Dennison stands outside the Brewer Arena test site on Dec. 20, 2021. (Emilien Juteau/CBC News)

Lack of rapid tests drives demand

Some people at the Brewer site who spoke to CBC Ottawa said a lack of availability of rapid tests pushed them to seek out a PCR test.

Kelly Dennison drove to the arena from her home in Russell, Ont., to get a molecular test on Monday after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

She said wider rapid test availability would have saved her the drive and eased the burden on public health.

"I just think the rapid tests should be available for everyone," said Dennison, who lives with her 89-year-old father. "Christmas is coming. You want to know whether your family coming in is safe to come into your home."

Ottawa Public Health says rapid tests cannot diagnose COVID-19, therefore it recommends rapid tests only to those without symptoms for screening purposes

The guidance from public health as of Monday was that people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should get a PCR test immediately