Rapid testing strategy updated again by Ontario government

There are three new recommendations for rapid testing

Just when you thought you had the province’s rapid testing strategy memorized, the government is making another update.

This comes as the Omicron variant rapidly spreads across Ontario, and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-109 on Thursday closed in on 2,300.

The province is now recommending rapid antigen tests for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms. They can also be used for screening purposes in individuals without symptoms.

The Ministry of Health says positive tests for a symptomatic person should be treated as a confirmed case and that person and their household would be required to self-isolate. Two negative tests within two days for symptomatic individuals would only require them to isolate until their symptoms start to improve.

The province is not recommending that rapid tests be used before social events or gatherings due to the risk of false negatives.

The tests are also being recommended for test-to-work purposes to meet workforce needs in high-risk settings. This is to help alleviate staffing shortages and would allow individuals to return to work with a negative test when they would otherwise be stuck in self-isolation.

Ottawa announced on Wednesday it would distribute 140 million rapid tests to the provinces and territories in January, and they would be doled out on a per capita basis.

The Ford government says it’s expecting 119 million tests from Ottawa but says there is no firm delivery schedule.

So far only 150,000 tests have been allocated to Ontario in January while another nine million have been scheduled for delivery.

Due to changes to PCR testing eligibility and the expanded RAT testing strategy, the province expects a dramatic uptick in demand for rapid tests from one million to 18 million per week.

The Ministry of Health says the province requested more than 68 million tests for the month of January. It is still awaiting confirmation on whether the remaining 14 million it asked for will be delivered.

The province changed its PCR testing guidelines on Dec. 30. Publicly-funded PCR tests are only available for high-risk residents who are symptomatic or are at risk of severe illness.

Anyone else who is not considered vulnerable and is experiencing mild symptoms of the virus is being asked to not seek testing. Non-vulnerable individuals who test positive using a rapid test will no longer be required to receive confirmation via a PCR test.