Huge, sustained demand prompts changes to London’s COVID-19 assessment centres

One of two assessment centres in London, the Oakridge location will see patients by appointment-only starting Oct. 5. Andrew Graham / Global News

Starting Oct. 5, changes will be coming to the two main COVID-19 assessment centres in London, Ont., with one reserved for walk-ins and the other only seeing patients by appointment.

The Thames Valley Family Health Team, which operates the centres alongside the London Health Sciences Centre, says the changes are meant to “meet the testing needs for our community.”

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Executive director Mike McMahon says the changes will allow more people to be tested, but the team recognizes additional tests are needed.

“We will continue to work with our partners to look for ways to streamline our testing capacity.”

The centres are also supported by the Middlesex-London Paramedic Services, the Middlesex-London Health Unit, and City of London.

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The Carling location will handle all walk-in COVID-19 testing. As well, its daily hours will be extended to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from the current 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The location will use a time card system, which involves those in the queue being given a time to return later in the day until daily capacity is reached.

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The Carling location will see patients who:

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  • have COVID-19 symptoms
  • have been notified by Public Health or the COVID-19 Alert App that they’ve been exposed to a confirmed case
  • live or work in a setting that has had an outbreak as identified by Public Health
  • are eligible for testing as part of a “targeted testing initiative” as determined by the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Long-Term Care

At the Oakridge location, hours of operation will remain 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays only, but the centre will shift to taking booked appointments and no walk-ins.

Read more: Latest COVID-19 modelling suggests Ontario could see around 1,000 cases a day in October

Appointments can be booked over the phone at 519-667-6886. Callers will be prompted to leave their name, call-back number, and the reason they need the test, and they “will be called back within two business days.”

The Oakridge location will allow appointments for patients who are:

  • kids 12 and under who have symptoms
  • health care workers with symptoms
  • asymptomatic people who are:
    • residents, workers, visitors or caregivers at a retirement home or long-term care facility
    • international students who’ve completed their 14-day quarantine
    • farm workers
    • members of Indigenous communities
    • members of other setting-specific populations as defined by the province’s chief medical officer of health, such as those who are about to have an operation or about to start chemo-therapy

“The changes (the Thames Valley Family Health Team is) bringing to the assessment centre process provide clear guidance that will allow local residents to decide for themselves when and where to get tested,” said MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie.

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This will align “their specific situation to the location and level of service that best meets their needs,” he said.

Read more: Ontario’s new testing strategy highlights complexities of 2nd wave, experts say

London’s COVID-19 assessment centres have been faced with massive demand for testing since mid-September, with wait times of at least two hours regularly recorded, and with both centres reaching capacity earlier and earlier in the day. Both Monday and Tuesday of this week, assessment centres reached capacity for the day before noon.

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A mobile testing site launched Wednesday in Dorchester, just east of London, reached capacity before it even opened on its first day.

The pop-up clinic was scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the town’s Outdoor Recreation Complex. By 10:42 a.m., the MLPS announced via Twitter that it had reached capacity for the day.

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Three Shoppers Drug Mart locations in London — 395 Southdale Rd. E.; 603 Fanshawe Park Rd. W.; and 3090 Colonel Talbot Rd. — began offering testing to high-priority asymptomatic people on Tuesday in another effort to address high-demand for testing.

— with files from Global News’ Andrew Graham and Sawyer Bogdan.

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