As Ontario’s backlog of COVID-19 test results swelled to nearly 11,000 Thursday, the provincial government said it is days away from resolving the problem.
Widely testing for the novel coronavirus — and getting patients their results as quickly as possible — is crucial in battling the worsening pandemic, the World Health Organization has said. But Ontario has struggled to expand its testing capacity and work through a logjam of test results that has continued to balloon over the past week.
“We are currently making a dent," said Dr. Vanessa Allen, the chief of medical microbiology at the Public Health Ontario Laboratory.
“We expect it to be resolved by early next week.”
Ontario is currently processing about 2,500 tests per day at nine labs. Earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford also said a shortage of the materials needed for chemical analysis of COVID-19 tests was slowing down labs further.
The province has come under fire in recent days for not testing enough — British Columbia, for example, is far outpacing Ontario, which has mostly restricted tests to health-care workers, people who have travelled abroad, and those already in hospital or long-term care. And patients have reported waiting more than a week for test results that are supposed to take two days, a delay Health Minister Christine Elliott has said is "unacceptable."
The province is now pushing to gradually scale up, enlisting hospital and commercial labs to begin utilizing up to 30 facilities to process 18,900 tests per day by April 17.
“As we expand the number of tests, we will have a better sense of the prevalence (of the novel coronavirus),” said Ontario’s Deputy Health Minister, Helen Angus.
On Thursday, the province reported 858 active cases of COVID-19. Fifteen people have died from the virus in Ontario so far, while eight have recovered.
“We are currently making a dent, said Dr. Vanessa Allen, the chief of medical microbiology at the Public Health Ontario Laboratory. "We expect it to be resolved by early next week.”
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said it’s not clear if strict social distancing measures are working, and whether they will need to go on for weeks or months longer. He said he expects the province could start seeing 200 new cases per day next week.
“If we happen to coast through this week and stay down low I’d be pleasantly surprised,” he said. “But we’re not seeing that. The numbers are going up.”
Ford vows to go after price-gougers
Earlier in the day, Premier Ford said the Progressive Conservative government was planning measures to stop retailers from price-gouging. In particular, he pointed the finger at Pusateri’s, the upscale grocery chain, which had priced up Lysol Wipes to just under $30 per pack.
"You know what? I'm going to call them out,” Ford said. “It's disgusting … If you plan on gouging, we're going to get you and you will be charged.”
The president and CEO of the chain, Frank Lucetta, apologized in a statement and said the retailer would issue refunds to anyone who bought wipes at the higher price.
Also on Thursday, Elliott, the health minister, countered reports from hospitals and front-line staff that vital medical equipment is in short supply. If hospitals are rationing protective equipment she said, that’s the hospital’s decision and not mandated by the province.
“We are continuing to send supplies to them,” she said.