OTTAWA — Provinces are looking to expand COVID-19 testing as many Canadians wait long hours to be swabbed or can’t get in for testing at all.
Demand for testing surged in much of the country in recent days, as schools and universities reopened and the number of identified cases began to rise.
Ottawa public health officials said they’d seen record demand at testing sites since the weekend, and many people were turned away both Monday and Tuesday because the sites had reached capacity.
In London, Ont., two testing sites hit capacity in the afternoon Tuesday.
New testing centres have opened in Laval, Que., and Edmonton in the last week to accommodate rising demand. Quebec Premier Francois Legault said his province is trying to expand sites in regions that previously weren’t seeing much call for swabbings, as well as adding capacity to labs to do the actual tests, but he said getting equipment is taking time.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday the lineups for testing are “ridiculous” and he is trying to see if pharmacies can be used to test some asymptomatic people to take pressure off overloaded COVID-19 assessment centres.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said some increase in demand has been expected, “but perhaps not to this extent.”
Ottawa mother Robin MacIntyre was waiting in line with her daughter at Ottawa’s Brewer Park testing site for the second day Tuesday, after they failed to get in on Monday. She had already waited two hours Tuesday and was frustrated.
“I think this is ridiculous,” she said. “They knew this was coming.”
People started lining up two hours before the testing site opened at 9 a.m. and by mid-morning, the lineup snaked around a nearby soccer field four times. Some people brought lawn chairs and boxed lunches, entertaining their kids with smartphones and tablets, or let them play on a nearby playground. By 10:30 a.m. people at the back of the line were already being warned they wouldn’t get in, even though the site was open until 3:30 p.m.
MacIntyre wondered what is going to happen in the winter.
Ontario’s public health chief Dr. David Williams said Monday the province is looking at what to do about winter testing lines, including possibly finding a way for people to safely wait indoors.
Ottawa’s local authorities are trying to increase test capacity from 2,000 to 3,000 a day, and is hiring and training more staff over the next week. Dr. Alan Forster, a vice-president at the Ottawa Hospital who is overseeing testing for the Ottawa region’s COVID-19 response committee, said two local testing sites should be able to add four more hours per day within a week.
He said the No. 1 driver of the surge in demand for testing is kids.
But Ottawa officials are also desperately trying to convince adults who don’t have symptoms and have no known exposure to COVID-19 to stop coming in for tests. Forster said asymptomatic people who haven’t had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are clogging up the system.
Ottawa public health chief Dr. Vera Etches said people without symptoms or a known exposure can give themselves peace of mind they don’t have COVID-19 by practising the public health precautions preached for months: wear a mask, keep your distance, avoid large gatherings and wash your hands.
The surge in cases is driving testing demand too because the number of potential exposures is growing. In London, testing demand soared after five students at Western University tested positive over the weekend.
Etches said people who are testing positive are also reporting more close contacts, which means more people have to be sent for testing. She said in March many people were reporting 15 to 20 close contacts, while in the summer, that had fallen to just two or three per person.
This month, she said some people have more than 100 contacts, and one even had more than 150.
Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday the federal government is offering federal lab capacity to help the surge in demand because getting testing done quickly is critical to identifying and isolating cases and controlling the pandemic.
Tam also said Canada needs to get more rapid tests, so results can be provided in under an hour rather than in one or two days. She said the faster tests still need to be approved by Health Canada and couldn’t say when that might happen.
Dr. Tony Mazzulli, microbiologist in chief at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said conducting a test on a sample takes less than 24 hours but it takes time to get the specimens from the test sites to the lab, and more time to get the results back to the testing site and then entered into a computer so patients can be contacted.
Mazzulli said his lab saw between 4,500 and 5,000 specimens a day for testing in the last two or three weeks, up from between 3,000 and 3,500 a day over the summer. It can do as many as 10,000 now and are working to get that to above 17,000 by mid-October.
With files from Paola Loriggio in Toronto, Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Jordan Press in Ottawa.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2020.
St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto declares COVID-19 outbreak among ER staff – Toronto Star
TORONTO – Another hospital in downtown Toronto has declared an outbreak of COVID-19 among its staff.
Unity Health says there are five active coronavirus cases among emergency room staff at St. Michael’s Hospital.
In a statement Tuesday evening, the health network says “no patient cases have been identified to date” and the risk of patient exposure is low.
However, it recommends anyone who visited the ER at St. Michael’s within the last two weeks to self-monitor.
The hospital is one of four in Toronto that have declared COVID-19 outbreaks in recent days.
The others are St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto Western Hospital and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2020.
CDC redefines what counts as close contact for coronavirus, adds short encounters – Global News
U.S. health officials Wednesday redefined what counts as close contact with someone with COVID-19 to include briefer but repeated encounters.
For months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said close contact meant spending a solid 15 minutes within six feet of someone who tested positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday, the CDC changed it to a total of 15 minutes or more — so shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period now count.
The CDC advises anyone who has been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient to quarantine for two weeks.
The change may prompt health departments to do contact tracing in cases where an exposure might previously have been considered too brief, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert.
It also serves notice that the coronavirus can spread more easily than many people realize, he added.
The definition change was triggered by a report on that case of a 20-year-old Vermont correctional officer, who was diagnosed with a coronavirus infection in August. The guard, who wore a mask and goggles, had multiple brief encounters with six transferred prisoners before test results showed they were positive. At times, the prisoners wore masks, but there were encounters in cell doorways or in a recreational room where prisoners did not have them on, the report said.
Coronavirus: COVID-19 vaccine unlikely before late 2021, CDC director says
An investigation that reviewed video footage concluded the guard’s brief interactions totalled 17 minutes during an 8-hour shift.
The report didn’t identify the prison but Vermont officials have said that in late July, six inmates tested positive when they arrived at the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland.
In a statement, CDC officials said the case highlights again the importance of wearing masks to prevent transmission, and that the agency’s guidance can change as new information comes in.
“As we get more data and understand this COVID we’re going to continue to incorporate that in our recommendations,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said at a press conference in Atlanta.
The CDC also says close contact can include hugging and kissing, sharing eating or drinking utensils with someone infected, and providing home care to someone who is sick. Someone sneezing or coughing on you also counts.
The risk of spread is considered to be lower outdoors, but the CDC guidance update “makes scientific sense,” said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
© 2020 The Canadian Press
New Brunswick reports fourth COVID-19 death, 6 new cases – CTV News Atlantic
New Brunswick reported its fourth COVID-19-related death, as well as six new cases in the Campbellton region (Zone 5), on Wednesday.
Public Health confirms that an individual between the ages of 70 and 79 died Wednesday in Zone 5 (Campbellton region) as a result of underlying complications, including COVID-19.
“The loss of another person in our province related to COVID-19 is not news we ever want to have to share,” said New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs in a news release. “I, along with all New Brunswickers, send sincere condolences to the family and friends of this individual, as well as to everyone who continues to be impacted by the recent outbreaks.”
“I ask all New Brunswick to join me in extending our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of the deceased,” added Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health. “It has been difficult to witness the unfolding outbreak in the Campbellton-Restigouche region.”
In addition to the death, New Brunswick is reporting six new cases of COVID-19, all in the Campbellton region. The individuals are all self-isolating and the cases are under investigation.
The new cases involve:
- One individual under the age of 19
- One individual in their 30s
- Two people in their 40s
- One individual in their 50s
- One individual in their 60s
Nine previously reported cases are now considered recovered, dropping the total number of active cases in the province to 92, with 57 of those reported in the Campbellton area (Zone 5).
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 319 and 223 cases are considered recovered, leaving 92 active cases in the province. There have been four deaths in the province.
Five patients are hospitalized, with one in an intensive care unit.
As of Tuesday, 94,322 COVID-19 tests have been conducted.
The number of cases are broken down by New Brunswick’s seven health zones:
- Zone 1 – Moncton region: 93 confirmed cases (33 active cases)
- Zone 2 – Saint John region: 32 confirmed cases (1 active case)
- Zone 3 – Fredericton region: 60 confirmed cases (1 active case)
- Zone 4 – Edmundston region: 8 confirmed cases
- Zone 5 – Campbellton region: 120 confirmed cases (57 active cases)
- Zone 6 – Bathurst region: 3 confirmed cases
- Zone 7 – Miramichi region: 3 confirmed cases
SECOND CASE CONFIRMED AT DALHOUSIE SCHOOL
Dalhousie Regional High School is reporting its second positive case of COVID-19 in just over a week.
The school confirmed the case in a letter to parents on Tuesday.
The case is not connected to the first positive case at the school, which was first confirmed on Oct. 12.
ZONE 1 AND ZONE 5 REMAIN IN ORANGE PHASE
Both Zone 1 (Moncton region) and Zone 5 in New Brunswick remained in the orange phase Wednesday, but it is anticipated that Zone 1 will return to the yellow phase this week.
There are 33 active cases in Zone 1, but Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, has said the novel coronavirus appears to be contained, and, if current trends continue, the Moncton region will return to the yellow phase this Friday.
Zone 5 will remain at the orange level, however.
VEHICLE TRAFFIC INFORMATION
New Brunswick’s online dashboard includes information about vehicle traffic attempting to enter the province.
On Tuesday, 1,807 personal and 1,530 commercial vehicles attempted to cross the border into the province.
Of the vehicles attempting to cross the border, 29 were refused entry, for a refusal rate of 0.9 per cent.
This is a developing story, more to come.
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