Ottawa health officials are increasing hours at the city’s primary coronavirus assessment centre amid another day of hours-long waits for COVID-19 testing and mounting political pressure to shorten the lines.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson initially said Wednesday that the Brewer Assessment Centre would be open for 13.5 hours daily, but a later clarification from the Ottawa Hospital said the new hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., just under 12 hours each day.
Watson also said that an online system for booking appointments at the centre is also forthcoming.
Amid surging numbers of local COVID-19 cases, Watson said the long lineups in Ottawa have been “frustrating” and that he has spoken with the president of the Ottawa Hospital and other health-care institutions to push them to fix the situation before colder weather hits in the fall and winter.
Some residents waiting at Ottawa’s Moodie Drive testing centre have reported waits as long as eight hours, according to Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden, who spoke about the city’s testing capacity in the Ontario legislature on Wednesday.
Harden sought to hold Ontario Premier Doug Ford to account on the issue of testing, pushing him for a plan to reduce the lineups in Ottawa.
Ford pledged on Wednesday to add testing capacity by allowing pharmacies to conduct coronavirus tests.
Ottawa’s testing concerns are receiving federal attention as well, as Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna attended a briefing on the city’s testing strategy to express her support to commit more resources to the situation.
“We basically said we’ll do whatever it takes,” McKenna said, recounting a conversation she recently had with Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
Ottawa’s urban councillors might soon have their calls for a downtown testing centre answered by the city’s community health centres.
Naini Cloutier, executive director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre, said an appointment-only testing centre will open shortly in Sandy Hill for downtown residents who face barriers getting to existing sites in the city.
Ottawa health officials reiterated their concerns that many of the people currently waiting in lineups to receive a coronavirus test are not the priority for getting tested.
Dr. Brent Moloughney, associate medical officer of health, said at Wednesday’s briefing that asymptomatic residents searching for “peace of mind” about a possible exposure are more likely to be left with a false assurance, as the standard PCR test to detect the coronavirus is limited in its effectiveness.
The PCR test might miss an infection that’s still incubating in the body, for example, or might return a positive result past the point of possible transmission. It also can’t provide a clean bill of health for an upcoming social event, as the test can miss infections that happen just before or in the days after the assessment.
“When I explain this to some people, they’re surprised,” Moloughney said.
Tests should be prioritized for anyone who is showing symptoms or anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed case, health officials said Wednesday.
It’s especially relevant for students heading back to in-person schooling, in order to prevent coronavirus outbreaks in schools.