Rising COVID-19 indicators in Ontario call for expanded access to PCR testing

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, March 30, 2022 3:22 PM EDT

Last updated on Wednesday, March 30, 2022 3:22 PM EDT

As Ontario’s COVID-19 indicators rise, opposition politicians are calling on the government to expand access to PCR testing for the virus.

Critics have called on Ontario to restore broad access to gold-standard tests, which have been restricted to certain high-risk groups since December, when the Omicron variant overwhelmed resources.

Those calls continued on Wednesday, as some suggested the province was entering a sixth wave of cases following a lull after the peak of the Omicron wave.

Liberal House leader John Fraser says “a sixth wave is on the way” and so the government must broaden access to the tests, a call echoed by NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

Green leader Mike Schreiner called on the government to offer free rapid antigen COVID-19 testing at pharmacies and supermarkets next week.

When it was introduced in February, a program of testing in those locations would last at least eight weeks, and a spokeswoman for the health minister says the province is considering keeping it going.

Alexandra Hilkene says Ontario is also waiting for the federal government to confirm it will continue to provide rapid tests.

The calls came as Ontario reported 1,610 new virus cases — though the province’s top doctors have said the number is likely 10 times higher due to PCR testing restrictions — and a 15 percent test positivity rate.

There were also 778 people in hospital with the virus, 165 of whom were patients in intensive care.

The number of hospital admissions fell slightly from 790 the day before, but the Ontario Hospital Association noted on Twitter that the daily number of hospital admissions is still rising.

Ontario dropped most of its public health measures this month aimed at containing the virus, removing masks from most public indoor settings and lifting proof of vaccination for businesses and other institutions.

But some local health officials advised people to continue to mask on Wednesday in light of shifting virus indicators.

Ottawa’s medical officer of health released a statement on rising levels of COVID-19, saying the positivity of the city’s wastewater viral signal test was both “very high.”

dr. Vera Etches said hospital admissions are “stable,” but that could change if the number of cases continues to rise.

“The pandemic is not over yet and we are currently experiencing another resurgence,” she wrote.

Etches said Ottawa Public Health had briefed the county’s chief medical officer about the “relevant levels” of COVID-19 in the city. Her statement also said public health “highly recommends that people continue to wear masks indoors, especially when physical distancing may not be possible or proves challenging in crowded areas.”

Public health officials elsewhere in the province also advised people to continue masking.

dr. Thomas Piggott, medical officer of health for Peterborough, said on Twitter that there is a high risk for COVID-19 based on current indicators and said public health “strongly recommends masking for everyone”.

Durham Region’s top doctors, Dr. Robert Kyle, also shared a statement saying he encourages residents to continue wearing masks in indoor environments outside their household, noting that “COVID-19 is still very much present and spreading in our community.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 30, 2022.

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