Ontario investing $1 billion to expand testing capacity, contact management

Sep 24 2020, 9:32 am

The Ontario government is investing $1.07 billion for expanding COVID-19 testing, and case and contact management.

On Thursday, the government said they are also “immediately investing” $30 million to prevent and manage outbreaks in priority sectors, including long-term care homes, retirement homes and schools.

“We’ve put over $1 billion on the table to help track, trace and isolate cases of COVID-19 through the largest and most robust pandemic testing initiative in the country,” said Premier Doug Ford.

“By ramping up our daily testing capacity to 50,000 tests and closely monitoring our long-term care homes and schools, we can quickly respond to any outbreaks and surges and stop the spread of this deadly virus in its tracks.”

The $1.07 billion investment will help provide more testing locations like primary care offices, at-home testing for certain home and community care clients, and participating pharmacies beginning Friday.

There will be more testing options with less invasive collection methods, like throat, nasal swabbing and saliva collection to be used in addition to nasopharyngeal swabs to test.

Starting this week, three Ontario hospitals are offering saliva collection, with more assessment centres offering this option in the coming weeks.

According to the province, there will be expansion of the provincial lab network so more tests can be processed and testing targets can be achieved.

“This includes hiring more lab staff and professional staff and improving data quality through digitizing requisition forms and other automated features. As a first step, the province will increase testing capacity to conduct up to 50,000 daily tests,” the release said.

In the province, there are currently more than 2,750 case and contact management staff up from approximately 1,500 staff in the spring.

Now, an additional 500 Statistics Canada employees are being onboarded this month to assist with contact management and Ontario is hiring an additional 500 contact tracers—making for a total of more than 3,750 case and contact management staff.

Ontario will also conduct health behaviour surveillance to track adherence to public health measures across “to help understand how to better communicate the importance and benefit of continuing to follow public health measures.”

In order to measure success in these efforts, Ontario will track progress against the following: faster turnaround time for testing: maintain test positivity rate under three percent; ensure sufficient case management and contact tracing capacity to continue reaching 90% of cases within 24 hours; and compliance with public health measures.

In support of these efforts, the province has also released new testing guidance to help focus public resources on where they are needed the most.

This plan is part of the province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19. 

So far, the premier unveiled the first pillar which was an investment of $70 million for the flue vaccine, urging everyone to get the shot. And the second being asymptomatic testing to occur in up to 60 pharmacies across the province.

Clarrie FeinsteinClarrie Feinstein

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