Hospitals and Long-Term Care Homes First to Get Rapid Tests in Ontario

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Ontario has started deploying COVID-19 rapid tests to select hospitals and long-term care homes across the province.

According to the province, these rapid tests which produce results in minutes instead of days like the current testing system in place, have been sent to 36 long-term care homes, and 27 hospitals and retirement homes in high transmission areas. Hospitals and long-term care homes will be able to test healthcare workers and patients or residents who are symptomatic or have been in close contact with others who have COVID-19 on site.

Ontario announced yesterday they have received approximately 98,000 ID NOW tests that are initially being allocated to hospitals and assessment centres in rural and remote communities to test people as part of early outbreak investigations in hotspot regions like Simcoe, Muskoka, Southwestern Ontario and Eastern Ontario. The program will be expanded to other areas of the province beginning in December. Continued rollout of this test is planned for Toronto and Peel regions and work is underway with Ontario Health and local public health units to support rapid testing deployment across the province.

The province also continues to work closely with Toronto Public Health and Peel Regional Health Unit to bring rapid testing into the regions' outbreak response, using rapid testing to help with early identification and investigation of outbreaks.

In addition to the ID NOW tests, the government said it has also received 1.2 million Panbio rapid antigen tests that will support a screening program for asymptomatic healthcare workers, staff and visitors of long-term care homes, as well as staff requiring routing testing in other workplaces. The government expects to receive up to 1.5 million more Panbio tests by the end of December.

Over the coming weeks select long-term care homes will use the Panbio rapid antigen tests to help inform future deployment across the sector.

One type of rapid test looks for the genetic material of the novel coronavirus, like the traditional lab version. The other looks for “antigens” - specific markers the virus leaves on the outside of a cell. 

Although the speed of rapid tests that can be processed right where the patient is tested is a lot more practical, rapid tests are generally considered less reliable than the “gold-standard” lab-based tests. As both ID NOW and Panbio tests are new, the government says they will be carefully evaluated and used in alignment with guidance from Health Canada.