TORONTO — Ontario has significantly increased testing and contact tracing capacity, allowing health experts to identify cases of COVID-19 and support efforts to stop the spread of the virus in the community, long-term care homes, and other congregate settings. In partnership with Ontario Health, Public Health Ontario, local public health units, and hospital and community laboratories, the Ontario government has developed an integrated laboratory system which has established the province as a national leader in daily testing volumes per capita.
"We've been working around the clock to establish a vast and robust testing regime, which is critical in our fight against this deadly virus," said Premier Ford. "We're now exceeding our target of 16,000 tests a day, with many of those tests aimed at protecting our long-term care residents and staff. This important milestone provides a strong foundation for gradually reopening our economy and getting people back to work, while protecting the health and safety of all Ontarians."
Testing is being carried out in hospitals, long-term care homes, group homes, shelters, emergency child care centres, and other congregate settings. Once test samples are collected and received from frontline staff, patients, residents and children, labs are providing test results generally within 24 to 48 hours. On May 2, 2020, the province released updated guidance to the health sector to ensure consistency across the province, and to help guide decision-making on the testing of priority population groups.
To date, Ontario has conducted over 342,000 tests, with testing results being made available to patients through the user-friendly online portal. The portal was developed to help ease pressure on frontline workers, allowing them to focus their efforts on combating COVID-19.
"Thanks to the joint efforts of this diverse group of health experts we have dramatically expanded the scale and scope of COVID-19 testing provincewide and have emerged as a national leader," said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. "We have met and exceeded our testing goals, which is critical to containing and limiting the spread of this new virus, both in our communities and in long-term care homes and other shared living spaces."
The new integrated laboratory system will support the province's health care system and laboratory network far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The provincewide testing network consists of more than 20 organizations and is coordinating and leveraging the diverse expertise located throughout the province. This is being achieved through daily check-ins and processes that address operational needs, such as:
Levels of supplies, expected supply consumption per day, inventory replenishment and other supply chain issues
Technical capacity and advances
Test turn-around times and the shifting of test samples to laboratories that have spare processing capacity
Ongoing scientific and technical review of test performance
Alternative approaches to processing
Ontario has also helped expand the capacity of public health units to conduct contact tracing and case management. Ontario's Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19 provided $100 million in additional investments for public health units to support COVID-19 monitoring and testing, including funding to support enhanced contact tracing. This funding enables public health units to hire more personnel.
In addition, Ontario previously issued an emergency order to provide public health units the authority and flexibility they need to make staffing decisions that support their ongoing efforts to contain the virus. With the help of volunteers, public health units have been able to expand their capacity to conduct case and contact management ― both of which are critical to stopping the spread of the virus. These include the thousands of retired nurses and medical students who have signed up through the province's website.
On April 10, 2020, the province committed to expanding its testing capacity by doubling the number of tests processed each day to 8,000 by April 15, 2020 and 14,000 by April 29, 2020.
Within 48 hours of implementation, the province’s COVID-19 Action Plan for Protecting Long-Term Care Homes significantly increased testing of long-term care staff and residents.
The province’s COVID-19 Action Plan for Vulnerable People further expanded testing of staff and clients at group homes, homeless shelters, and other congregate settings.
Ontario has a provincewide network of 23 laboratory sites working in coordination to further increase capacity and test turn-around times for COVID-19 testing.
Ontario is now a leader in Canada in daily testing volumes per capita. Recent expansion of testing has the province’s per capita testing ahead of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.