Saliva-based tests for asymptomatic people will be available at pharmacies starting on September 25
Ontario is expanding COVID-19 testing to pharmacies on Friday (September 25).
Premier Doug Ford said on Wednesday that up to 60 pharmacies will offer testing to boost capacity amid a surge in new infections in the province.
“It’s easy to get a flu shot and we have to make sure a COVID test is just as easy,” Ford said.
The saliva-based tests will be available by appointment only for people who are not experiencing symptoms, with further locations to be added in the weeks ahead.
The plan is aimed at relieving strain on the province’s 150 assessment centres, at which long lineups are now a common sight.
Participating pharmacies include Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall and independent pharmacies.
The pharmacies will prescreen people in advance to ensure they are not symptomatic. People experiencing symptoms are being told to go to an assessment centre.
Women’s College Hospital, Mount Sinai and Toronto Western Hospital will also start offering saliva testing at assessment centres this week, Ford added.
The hospitals will offer the saliva-based antigen tests, which have not been approved by Health Canada for widespread use, to gauge their accuracy in addition to the nasal-pharyngeal tests, Health Minister Christine Elliott explained.
“We are running that as a test project to make sure that we can count on those saliva tests, which would be very helpful for us, particularly when testing children,” Elliott said. “It takes several times as long to do a nasal-pharyngeal test with a child than a saliva test because they don’t want something stuck up their nose.”
During today’s press conference at a pharmacy in Huntsville, Ford urged the federal government to move quickly on approving saliva tests.
“Nothing is more important to the people of Ontario right now than getting Health Canada to approve the test,” Ford said. “I’m hearing crickets.”
Although saliva tests have been approved by regulators in the United States, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters earlier this month that antigen tests have not satisfied Health Canada’s accuracy requirements.
Expanding testing to pharmacies is part of the Ford government’s “fall preparedness plan” to tackle an expected second wave this fall. On Monday, the province announced plans to launch the largest flu immunization campaign in Canadian history.
Ontario reported 335 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday. Daily case growth spiked to 478 a day earlier – the highest single-day increase since early May.
See the list of pharmacies in Ontario offering COVID-19 tests here.