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Calls for more coronavirus testing sites as Ottawa’s COVID-19 cases climb

Ottawa health personnel speak with a driver before administering a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru test centre in Ottawa, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020.
Ottawa health personnel speak with a driver before administering a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru test centre in Ottawa, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The Canadian Press file

Ottawa city councillors are asking for more testing capacity in their wards as the city’s coronavirus case count continues to climb.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reported 17 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday following a spike of 36 cases the day previous.

OPH said the number of active coronavirus cases in the city dropped to 225 from 242 on Tuesday.

No new deaths linked to COVID-19 were reported on Wednesday. There have now been 3,151 cases of the virus locally since the start of the pandemic.

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A new coronavirus outbreak was reported at the Hillel Lodge long-term care home where one staff member tested positive for the virus.

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Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, told city council on Wednesday morning that the map showing which wards’ residents are hardest hit by COVID-19 has been updated to be more interactive and allow filtering for data from recent weeks.

Another update in the coming weeks will break down coronavirus reporting data by neighbourhood rather than by ward.

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Filtered to show new coronavirus cases arising in the past 30 days, Beacon Hill-Cyrville reports the highest number of residents testing positive with 47.

West Carleton-March, on the other hand, has recorded zero new cases in the past month, a figure that worried rather than comforted ward councillor Eli El-Chantiry.

He expressed doubt that there were no cases in his ward, and instead called for more accessible testing in rural areas of the city such as West Carleton-March.

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Orleans Coun. Matthew Luloff, who shared his own story of having to go get tested for a recent COVID-19 scare, echoed those calls.

He noted that the recent drive-thru testing site set up at the RGCT Park on Coventry Road isn’t accessible to anyone who doesn’t have a car and said the east end, which already shows relatively higher levels of COVID-19 concentration, needs more testing options.

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“The Ottawa Hospital is failing us on testing in the rural areas and in the east,” Luloff said during council.

Etches noted his concerns, but said resources for public testing are limited. She encouraged residents to reach out to their primary care providers about whether they could offer coronavirus testing out of their offices as a way to better distribute access to testing than increasing the number of centralized testing sites.

“Everyone would like more access to testing,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Hôpital Montfort told Global News on Wednesday that the hospital is “actively looking and planning for a potential site in the East End,” adding it is working with partners to ensure it has the appropriate resources to run a testing centre.

After Wednesday’s council meeting, five of Ottawa’s urban city councillors published a call to Cameron Love, CEO of the Ottawa Hospital, for a more walkable testing site in the city’s downtown core.

Their letter noted that even the most central testing site, the Brewer Assessment Centre, is still a 90-minute bus ride for many residents in their downtown wards. The Heron Gate and Moodie sites are even farther, and the drive-thru testing site is not accessible to pedestrians.

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“For many residents, even a bus ride is too expensive and too far,” the councillors wrote. “The expectation that people must own a car to be tested is unreasonable and creates a bias in the testing results.”

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The letter was signed by councillors Catherine McKenney, Shawn Menard, Jeff Leiper, Mathieu Fleury and Rawlson King.