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Pilot project to increase coronavirus testing in long-term care homes in Hamilton, Guelph, Niagara

St. Joseph's Health System and Niagara Health have started testing all asymptomatic residents within congregate settings for the novel coronavirus.
St. Joseph's Health System and Niagara Health have started testing all asymptomatic residents within congregate settings for the novel coronavirus. Lisa Polewski

St. Joseph’s Health System and Niagara Health have started testing all asymptomatic residents and select staff within their long-term care and retirement homes in Hamilton, Brantford, Guelph and the Niagara region for the novel coronavirus.

The pilot surveillance project aims to save lives by controlling the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, within “congregate” settings.

READ MORE: Hamilton hospitals reveal plan to open beds as public health reports 183 COVID-19 cases

Dr. Tom Stewart, CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System and Niagara Health, says the organizations will be testing roughly 3,000 patients and staff throughout their facilities.

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Stewart says that by testing everyone before they have symptoms and before there’s an outbreak, public health officials can understand whether there are “patients sitting there that are asymptomatic now that may cause an outbreak down the road.”

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He notes that similar pilots are underway elsewhere in Ontario, and based on the results, he predicts that public health officials “will be pivoting and taking a new strategy of testing as many of these patients, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, as we can” in long-term care facilities across the province.

READ MORE: Ontario reports 551 new coronavirus cases, total rises to 11,735 with 622 deaths

Stewart adds that the hope is that public health officials “can isolate and contact trace those that are asymptomatic so we could prevent others from getting it and from having a disaster on our hands.”

In Hamilton, 12 of the 16 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Tuesday involved residents living in congregate settings,

They include six residents of Cardinal Retirement Home, four residents of Heritage Green Nursing Home and two people living at the Good Shepherd Centre’s Emmanuel House hospice.

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