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Ontario health officials unveil new testing guidelines, criteria for coronavirus

Coronavirus: Ontario looks to free up long-term care beds and move hospital patients in nursing homes
WATCH ABOVE: Ontario is looking to free up hospital beds amid the COVID-19 pandemic and to do that they’re turning to long-term care homes. Morganne Campbell has obtained government instructions that raise concerns about what will happen to some 80,000 patients in these homes across the province.

Ontario health officials unveiled new testing guidelines and criteria Thursday in the wake of the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The new guidelines, according to health officials, are for vulnerable populations, including healthcare workers, caregivers, and first responders.

They were announced just a day after Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the province’s low testing numbers “unacceptable.” Though the province is able to conduct upwards of 13,000 tests a day, health officials have been lagging well behind that target.

READ MORE: Ontario conducting fewer than 3,000 COVID-19 tests despite daily capacity of 13,000

On Tuesday, the province only conducted 2,930 tests, while Wednesday saw 4,097 tests completed.

As of Monday, Ontario had completed 510 tests for every 100,000 residents. Alberta has done nearly 1,500 tests per 100,000 while B.C. has done 950 tests per 100,000.

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The province has tested 88,698 people so far for the virus.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 8 more dead from COVID-19 at Toronto nursing home, 101 confirmed and probable cases

The criteria will also help in regard to “atypical presentations” of COVID-19.

“This new guidance is a key enabler of the renewed testing strategy that will be announced tomorrow [Friday],” read a statement.

Furthermore, Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, has also given a new directive to long-term care homes, who have been struck with multiple outbreaks across the province, that all staff and essential visitors wear PPE equipment for the entirety of their shift or visit.

The directive, effective immediately, is required regardless of whether a long-term care home is experiencing an outbreak or not. There are four groups specifically targeted under the new guidelines.

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1. Hospital inpatients and residents living in long-term care homes and retirement homes

Any resident of these facilities should be tested if the following symptoms are seen:

• Fever (Temperature of 37.8°C or greater)
•cough, shortness of breath (dyspnea), sore throat, runny nose or sneezing, nasal congestion, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing)
• Evidence of pneumonia.

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The guidelines also highlight criteria for testing patients who may be asymptomatic.

Testing should be done within the “first 14 days under the direction of the overseeing clinician,” the guidelines state. In the case that a patient is being transferred from hospital to care home, he or she should be tested prior to the move.

Furthermore, if a patient tests negative prior to the move, he or she should also be put under a 14-day self-isolation period when they arrive at the new location.

In the event a symptomatic patient is rooming with someone, even if the roommate appears to be asymptomatic, both residents should be tested. Again, even if tests come back negative, all residents, including close contacts should be placed under a 14-day self-isolation period.

If a long-term care home or retirement home is struck by an outbreak, which over 50 in the province have been, the local public health unit should be consulted and testing should be done on all residents in adjacent rooms, all staff working on the floor/in the area, all visitors and any other person who may have been in contact with a positive case.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How COVID-19 is spreading across Canada

2. Healthcare workers/caregivers/care providers/first responders

The new guidelines state that all healthcare workers, caregivers, care providers and first responders should be “tested as soon as is feasible” if they start to display symptoms, including atypical ones.

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READ MORE: ‘Dynamic’ physical distancing could help balance COVID-19 fight, economy in Ontario: study

3. Remote/Isolated/Rural/Indigenous communities

Residents living in these areas should be tested if they are displaying one or more of the following symptoms:

• Fever (Temperature of 37.8°C or greater)
•cough, shortness of breath (dyspnea), sore throat, runny nose or sneezing, nasal congestion, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing)
• Evidence of pneumonia.

If a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in one of these areas, health officials said further community testing can be determined by the local public health unit.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Advocates for Toronto’s homeless plead for major increase in accommodations, testing

4. Priorities in situations of resource shortages

The guidelines state that all testing kits should be distributed equally across Ontario, however, if there are shortages, certain groups should take priority.

These groups include:

  • symptomatic healthcare workers and staff in healthcare facilities
  • symptomatic residents and staff in long-term care and retirement homes, as well as mental health facilities and homeless shelters
  • symptomatic members of remote, island, rural and/or indigenous communities
  • symptomatic travellers
  • symptomatic first responders
  • individuals referred to be tested by local public health units.

With files from Andrew Russell

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