On May 29, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott released the next phase of the province’s COVID-19 testing plan, Protecting Ontarians Through Enhanced Testing. Premier Ford and Minister Elliott were joined by Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams.
Premier Ford also called on provincial health officials to consider implementing a regional approach to reopening in Ontario.
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford, Minister Elliott and Dr. Williams responded to questions from media.
Protecting Ontarians Through Enhanced Testing
This afternoon, Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, released the next phase of Ontario’s COVID-19 testing strategy, Protecting Ontarians Through Enhanced Testing.
As Ontario continues its gradual reopening of the economy, this testing strategy will be applied to meet the following three goals:
- Controlling and managing outbreaks by identifying individuals who may be infected and aggressively managing potential contacts to prevent further transmission;
- Validating that the controls that have been put in place are working;
- Building an understanding of where to focus future testing from learnings about where COVID-19 is in our communities and institutions and providing data to inform policy development.
Ontario’s enhanced testing strategy involves a three-pronged approach featuring continued assessment centre testing and outbreak management, as well as targeted testing campaigns
- Assessment Centre Testing
As of May 24, 2020, Ontario has broadened its testing direction. In addition to Ontarians who are symptomatic (eg. showing at least one COVID-19 symptom), Ontarians who are concerned that they have been exposed to COVID-19, and people at risk of exposure through their employment are also able to get tested.
Anyone wishing to go to an assessment centre to get tested will no longer be required to get a referral and no Ontarian will be declined a test at an assessment centre.
- Targeted Testing Campaigns
Ontario will also be proactively conducting testing to quickly detect outbreaks and actively monitor the spread among priority populations. These efforts will be directed at emergency child care centres, hospitals, long-term care homes, and other congregate living settings such as group homes, shelters, and other shared living spaces.
Targeted testing will include testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic frontline staff in long-term care and retirement homes, as well as staff in hospitals experiencing outbreaks.
Ontario is also working to support testing for individuals and communities who may be at higher risk, including undertaking targeted testing initiatives in workplaces or regions with higher rates of COVID-19 positivity. Sectors identified as “higher risk” include retail, transportation, automotive, and education.
- Outbreak Management
In order to manage outbreaks in specific neighbourhoods, regions or institutions, Ontario will deploy resources such as mobile testing units.
Premier Ford and Minister Elliott acknowledged that efforts to increase testing in Ontario will likely lead to a higher number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. According to Premier Ford, finding more cases and tracing the contacts of these new cases will enable Ontario to contain the virus more quickly. The enhanced testing strategy will also enable Ontario to better learn about how the virus is spreading and how many people each new case is infecting.
Expanding the province’s contact tracing workforce will be critical to the success of Ontario’s expanded testing strategy.
Regional Approach to Reopening
Premier Ford also explained that Ontario’s expanded testing strategy will enable health officials to gain a better picture of the realities of different regions across Ontario. This information will allow the province to be more precise and targeted in its response to COVID-19 and its plan for reopening. As a result, Premier Ford is asking provincial health officials to consider implementing a regional approach to reopening, applying learnings from other provinces that have taken similar steps, such as Alberta and Quebec.
While he is now open to considering a regional approach to reopening Ontario’s economy, Premier Ford cautioned that he is not prepared to take unnecessary risks when it comes to the health and safety of Ontarians and reiterated that Ontario will continue to take a gradual approach to reopening based on the advice of the COVID-19 Command Table.
In response to questions about the proposed plan for regional reopening, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, indicated that he is considering how to communicate such an approach to Ontarians as well as how to prevent travel from restricted regions that continue to experience high numbers of COVID-19 to regions that are further ahead in their reopening process. He added that it will be important to take precautions to ensure that cases are not introduced to remote parts of the province, particularly if a regional approach is adopted.
Questions from Media – Health Human Resources
When asked about efforts being taken to recruit additional staff in Quebec’s long-term care homes, Minister Elliott acknowledged that staffing issues continue to be a problem in Ontario’s long-term care sector. She confirmed that the province is working on developing a health human resources strategy for long-term care, as well as for home and community care to ensure that health care workers remain in their professions. The Ontario government is working with organizations representing personal support workers and other health professionals to better understand their specific concerns and is considering educational opportunities for health care workers including career laddering.