Ontario will shift its focus to testing those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 in the coming weeks, including health-care workers and residents of long-term care homes, as the province works to quadruple its capacity over the course of a month.
Public health officials announced Friday that they plan to double testing capacity to 8,000 per day by April 15, and again to 16,000 people per day by May 6, in an effort to root out the novel coronavirus.
“The first step to winning any battle is knowing your enemy,” Premier Doug Ford said. “..We’re going to find cases faster, intervene earlier, and stop this virus in its tracks.”
Ford made the announcement as the number of cases in Ontario surged to 6,237 — a jump of 478– and the death toll reached 222.
And for the fourth day in a row, a backlog of tests awaiting results grew — this time by 390.
Ford said that as the testing capacity increases, it will focus on members of at-risk groups, such as hospital in-patients, people in prisons and jails, caregivers, those in Indigenous or remote communities and those who use homeless shelters.
“This step taken by the province and every effort made by each of us to avoid close contact with others is the key to stop the spread of this virus,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott. “We owe it to our front-line and essential workers, to our family friends and workers, to restrict our travel and to act responsibly.”
Provincial officials said that by May 6 only a quarter of the people they hope to be testing will have been referred to assessment centres, and the rest will go to symptomatic members of at-risk populations.
But they said that testing everyone — including the asymptomatic — is of little use because those who are in the virus’s two-week incubation period could receive false negatives.
Residents and workers at long-term care homes experiencing outbreaks accounted for 931 cases of COVID-19 and 98 deaths, according to the province’s daily epidemiologic summary.
Of those sickened in the 73 facilities where there have been outbreaks, 560 are residents and 366 are staff. In addition to the 98 residents who have died, a spouse of one of the residents also died of the virus.
The report says 17 hospitals are also experiencing outbreaks, in which 50 patients and 40 staff members have been sickened. Eight patients in those hospitals have died.