covid test

Ontario residents livid after province drastically cuts eligibility for COVID PCR testing

If you thought it was already impossible to secure an appointment for a PCR test for COVID-19 in Ontario, well, it's about to get even harder thanks to some changes coming into effect on New Year's Eve.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, held a much-anticipated press conference on Thursday afternoon in which he announced some new public health measures for the province amid the rampant spread of the Omicron variant.

Among them are further cuts to capacity limits at large-scale venues, a two-day delay to in-person learning at schools, and, perhaps most controversially, a shortened isolation period for positive cases (from 10 days to just five, like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but contrary to federal guidelines in Canada), as well as a drastic reduction to general access to PCR testing.

As of tomorrow, PCR tests — which have been publicly funded for anyone in the province who has symptoms of COVID-19, who has been exposed to a confirmed case, who lives or works in certain settings and/or who is Indigenous — will be limited to only select "high-risk" people.

High-risk in this case can mean those who are at severe risk of severe illness from the virus (such as those in hospital), those who live and work in certain long-term congregate living situations, and patient-facing healthcare workers, only if symptomatic, among others.

For everyone else, including people who have a confirmed exposure and/or who test positive on a rapid antigen test, are out of luck as far as testing is concerned, though Canadian officials have long touted PCR testing as the most reliable source for confirming infection.

The province is now advising citizens who believe they may have the virus to skip testing and go straight to self-isolation to reduce spread under the assumption that they are positive.

Testing for asymptomatic cases is now no longer recommended, and positive rapid tests will also no longer require PCR test confirmation as they did before.

Naturally, the public is quite upset about the new guidelines, especially given the lack of availability of rapid tests and the rate at which the virus is spreading.

Though the province marked a new record high daily case count of 13,807 on Dec. 29 and per cent positivity among those tested is hovering at around 30 per cent, health officials are saying that despite being more transmissible, Omicron presents with far less severe illness and is resulting in fewer hospitalizations and deaths than other COVID strains.

"I know that this number feels overwhelmingly high... but with this increase in cases, we have not seen a corresponding rapid increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions," Moore said in his press conference today, adding that Ontarians can expect daily case counts to continue to grow.

"Omicron is different from other variants... preliminary findings from Public Health Ontario suggest Omicron is the first dominant variant to demonstrate a decline in disease severity."

Thus, impacts on the healthcare system — which is what Moore says should be our primary concern — are low amid this wave.

He also admitted that it is important to distinguish between people hospitalized for actual COVID-19 versus those hospitalized "for other reasons, such as a broken bone or appendicitis, that also happen to test positive for COVID-19."

Hospitals are now being ordered to update their daily reports accordingly with this in mind.

While most people will no longer be able to book a PCR test at a hospital assessment centre or those select pharmacies offering publicly-funded PCR testing, there is always the option to pay a hefty amount at a private clinic if you really want one done.

The full list of who can still get a free PCR test, meanwhile, is outlined in the latest release from the province.

Lead photo by

Senado Federal

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