Rapid antigen tests 'shouldn't be a luxury' for northern Ontario, Sudbury mom says

Distribution of rapid antigen tests to help detect the spread of COVID-19 has not been equitable across the province, the NDP’s health critic says, putting more residents in northern Ontario at risk.

NDP Health Critic France Gelinas feels province ignoring the needs of people in the north

The province has neglected northern Ontario when it comes to setting up pop-up rapid testing sites over the holidays, the NDP's health critic France Gelinas says. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

For Spenser McCall, trying to find a rapid COVID test in Sudbury felt like the Hunger Games.

A few days before Christmas, the new mom felt under the weather and wanted to take a test to determine if she was sick with COVID-19.

McCall has a three-month old infant and a two year old son, neither of whom can be vaccinated against the virus. Both she and her husband are double vaccinated and both received their booster shots recently.

On December 17th, three LCBO stores in the northeast received a stock of tests.

But McCall said she didn't even try to access the south-end LCBO location in Sudbury as they ran out of tests the day they arrived.

McCall purchased COVID tests kits online, using money out of her own pocket, but those are on back order until Jan 10.

Because she had symptoms, McCall made an appointment to be tested at the COVID-19 assessment centre in Sudbury. The results  — negative — come in the following day.

"I feel like we're stuck in this timeline where you have to measure which risks you're taking to see your family, how you're keeping them safe, what money you are willing to spend to access these safety items and of course realizing that those around you might not be able to access them," she said.

McCall called the COVID at-home tests luxury items.

"It shouldn't be a luxury item, it should be something available readily to the public."

Not equitable distribution, MPP says 

Distribution of rapid antigen tests has not been equitable across the province, NDP's health critic France Gélinas said, adding that's putting more residents in northern Ontario at risk. 

The member of provincial parliament for Nickel Belt, said that recent announcements of pop-up clinics have not included locations outside of major urban centers, such as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ottawa.

The schedule for the week of December 20 - 25 included just one location in the north, in Thunder Bay on Christmas Eve.

However that was cancelled when the tests didn't arrive.

The schedule for the week of December 27 - 31 shows no northern locations at all.

"As soon as [people] start to look into it and see that there is no plan to make an equitable distribution, at first they can't believe such a basic plan was not in place," Gélinas said. 

"And then they get angry at the government and feel that as northerners, we don't matter to them."

Most of the pop-ups, where people can be tested for the virus or pick up self-testing kits, are in the vicinity of big cities.

The sites are announced on Fridays on a rolling schedule, the government said on its website, in an effort to distribute a million antigen kits throughout December to mid-January. Locations will be removed from the list once they've run out of kits.

Kingston, a city hit hard by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, is expected to have a pop-up site on December 29. Smaller communities like Havelock, which sits about 45 kilometres east of Peterborough, and Bridgenorth, 10 kilometres north of Peterborough, are also on the provincial schedule.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas says that politics is getting in the way of public health ahead of the 2022 provincial election. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

"The only thing that matters to the conservative government is Toronto and the GTA," she said. "We deserve equity. And with this government, [people] feel like they are not getting it."

Politics getting in the way of public health, Gélinas says

Gélinas said she's also concerned that the 2022 provincial election is dictating some of the government's decisions during the pandemic.

"There are some good strategies that are being put out by public health. There are good strategies being put out by the [Ontario] Science Table," she said. 

"We have to listen to science. We have to listen to public health, not put the upcoming election and fortunes of a party ahead of the health of Ontarians," Gélinas said.

In a written statement sent Tuesday, the ministry told CBC, "in addition to Ontario directly procuring additional rapid tests where possible, we are continuing to urge the federal government to make more rapid tests available to provinces as quickly as possible."

"While we were expecting to receive approximately 10 million rapid tests from the federal government this month, millions of tests have been delayed until the new year," said the statement.


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