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Ottawa health unit trying to improve 7-day wait time for coronavirus test results

A health care worker looks at the health card of a test patient, a staff member portraying the role of a patient to ensure the assessment systems are working, at a registration table as they prepare for the opening of the COVID-19 Assessment Centre at Brewer Park Arena in Ottawa, during a media tour on Friday, March 13, 2020.
A health care worker looks at the health card of a test patient, a staff member portraying the role of a patient to ensure the assessment systems are working, at a registration table as they prepare for the opening of the COVID-19 Assessment Centre at Brewer Park Arena in Ottawa, during a media tour on Friday, March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

People tested for the novel coronavirus in Ottawa are now waiting up to seven days before receiving their results, the city’s public health unit says.

Local health officials are working to improve those wait times, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said in a teleconference on Tuesday.

“We’re working with health-care providers, the labs [and] the testing centre to ramp up their efforts to process samples locally as part of a more sustainable model across the province,” she said.

READ MORE: Ontario reports 3 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa from travel, close contact

So far, the province of Ontario has confirmed 27 cases of COVID-19 in the national capital.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reports its figures separately and, as of Tuesday morning, was investigating 25 confirmed cases of the virus, plus 13 indeterminate cases.

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Health officials are asking people who have been tested for COVID-19 in Ottawa not to call the public health agency about their test results.

Anyone who got tested at the local assessment centre at Brewer Park Arena should follow guidance on how to receive test results online, Etches said.

Those seeking clarification about what they should do while awaiting results should follow the health unit’s guidance on self-isolation, Etches said.

Ottawa could see around 4,000 new cases a day at peak, Etches says

Etches does expect the number of confirmed cases in Ottawa to increase and said earlier this week there could be up to 4,000 undetected cases in the city at this point. That estimate is based on modelling data that takes into account transmission of the virus locally and internationally and a variety of variables, according to Etches.

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On Tuesday, the city’s top doctor said health officials had seen previous models that suggested Ottawa could see up to 4,000 new cases per day at the peak of the spread.

Coronavirus outbreak: 2176 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, 25 deaths
Coronavirus outbreak: 2176 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, 25 deaths

Etches said she couldn’t say when the city might reach that point, emphasizing the models are approximate and regularly changing.

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“That’s a long way from where we are right now and I hope we don’t reach that.

“But these are the kinds of things that we’re looking at and trying to understand how we avoid that.”

READ MORE: Ontario government announces ‘enhanced’ self-assessment tool for COVID-19

There are plans underway to open additional assessment centres in the city shortly, Etches confirmed Tuesday. She suggested two centres might open soon: one in a location in the city’s east end and the other in the west end.

Etches also encouraged people to use the Ontario government’s “enhanced” online self-assessment tool if they believe they have symptoms of the novel coronavirus or have been in close contact with someone who has symptoms.

‘No plans’ to use cellphone locations to monitor social distancing

In the next few days, Ottawa’s health unit plans to begin surveying residents over the phone to gather more information on whether people are complying with those orders to stay home, limit non-essential outings and self-isolate — and how they’re managing, Etches said.

While she had said Monday that officials were looking into using data “potentially from electronic sources” like cellphones to gather similar information, Etches clarified Tuesday that Ottawa Public Health has “no plans to implement cellphone proximity tracking or social media mining” at this time.

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“Exploring these options would need to be done in a transparent way to be sure that we protect privacy and also to confirm that there’s evidence that these tools would work the way we’d want them to,” Etches said on the teleconference.

READ MORE: Ottawa Public Health wants to monitor how people are complying, coping with social distancing

The health agency continues to explore “all options to use technology to assist with the response” and would talk with the province if it “identified an appropriate way” to use cellphone locations.

Aside from telephone polling, the public health unit also might draw on complaints it’s receving about people who aren’t following orders to practise physical distancing or self-isolation.

READ MORE: Limit travel between Ottawa and Gatineau, mayors urge

Etches said Ottawa Public Health hasn’t received “a large quantity of complaints” but officials will keep an eye on the volume.

“It’s one way to take the pulse of what’s happening,” she said.

Etches asked people who want to submit complaints to use Ottawa Public Health’s general email address and not her personal account.

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