The Ontario government has been under fire for not reaching its daily benchmark for coronavirus testing often enough, but health officials have now hinted that the public may also share the blame.
Global News tallied only seven days out of 15 days in which the province hit its goal of conducting 16,000 tests daily since it created that benchmark on May 6th.
Minister of Health Christine Elliott said on Wednesday that there had not been enough people going to assessment centres in the past week, even though the province eased up the testing criteria.
“Previously, more or less, it was in the clinical judgment of the person at the assessment centre, but now, if people have symptoms and they want to be tested, they will be tested,” said Elliott.
“That is really important from a community perspective as we’re opening the economy.”
Last week, the province expanded the eligibility for COVID-19 testing to include those who have milder symptoms.
People can now get tested if they have less severe ‘typical’ symptoms like runny nose, sore throat and nausea — but can also qualify if they feel ‘atypical’ symptoms, such as headaches, an unexplained fast heart rate, unexplained falls, fatigue or even pink eye.
Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams suggested Thursday that the public might not be aware of the expanded criteria for testing and the government needs to do a better job of communicating it.
“We have to make sure it’s consistent, because there are many different parts and pieces to it. There can be some times that that consistent messaging does not get put through,” said Dr. Williams
“Perhaps our messaging and communication isn’t as clear as it should be and we’re working on that right now.”
Dr. Williams also acknowledged that there is a chance some people may be apprehensive about going to testing centres with minor symptoms because there’s a greater fear of contracting COVID-19 at those facilities.
On Thursday, Ontario premier Doug Ford said he wants to expand the testing criteria even further to allow people who aren’tshowing symptoms to be tested, especially after testing rates had dropped in previous days.
Epidemiologist Dr. Isaac Bogoch believes the blame for the shortage of COVID-19 testing goes both ways: the public has to make the effort to go to the assesment centres, but the government also needs to do more to promote the new testing criteria.
“I think it’s also important to communicate to the general population and say, ‘if you have signs or symptoms of this infection, come on in,'” said Bogoch. “You will not be turned away.
“It’s an important thing to communicate in order to lower any barriers to diagnostic testing in the province.
“If people know where their closest diagnostic testing centre is, how to access it and know that they won’t be turned away if they have symptoms of COVID-19, they can show up and get tested. I think we’ll be doing the right thing.”