Coronavirus testing will be offered at select pharmacies in London, Ont., as of early next week, Premier Doug Ford announced on Friday.
It’s not clear yet which pharmacies in the city will begin offering the testing, which is expected to start as early as Tuesday. In a statement, London Mayor Ed Holder said the city would share that information as soon as it was revealed, and that more locations would “soon be added throughout the city.”
Ford also announced that testing was set to begin at pharmacies in Brantford, Brights Grove, Cambridge, Chatham, Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara Falls, Sarnia, St. Catharines, Stratford, St. Thomas, Windsor, and Woodstock.
“We have had great cooperation with our provincial counterparts since the onset of this pandemic, and I am thankful for the Premier’s rapid response to this urgent appeal,” Holder said.
The news comes a day after Holder issued a plea to the Ford government asking it to bring such testing to the city. Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott unveiled a plan earlier this week that would see up to 60 pharmacies, largely in the GTA, begin offering free, appointment-only COVID-19 testing to certain asymptomatic people starting Friday.
Only certain individuals — such as those with loved ones in long-term care homes, close contacts of a known case or high-risk workers — are eligible to get the tests.
The swabs that pharmacies deploy for the tests are reportedly easier for staff to use. The testing swab most Ontarians are familiar with goes deep into the nose, but the ones pharmacies use only touch closer to the end of the nostrils.
The launch of pharmacy screening came a day after the provincial government changed its guidelines around who can get a test. Premier Doug Ford had previously said anyone who wanted a test could get one but announced Thursday that those without symptoms should stay away from the testing sites, with some exceptions.
That means some asymptomatic people who want reassurance they don’t have the virus will not have access to testing offered by the province.
The city’s two assessment centres, located at Carling Heights Optimist Centre and Oakridge Arena, have been plagued with capacity issues and hours-long wait times for the last two weeks as cases have spiked in the city amid what health officials have said is a second wave of the coronavirus.
On Friday, both centres reached capacity before they were set to open. The closure was being blamed on the unexpected breakdown of testing instruments at the testing lab operated by London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). LHSC operates the facilities alongside Thames Valley Family Health Team.
Thursday saw the two assessment centres close before noon for the first time, also due to the testing instrument issues.
At least 107 cases have been reported in London and Middlesex so far this month. Of those, at least 84 cases have involved people under the age of 30.
The city has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases among post-secondary students, largely at Western University. As many as 50 Western students were previously known to have tested positive over the last 14 days, though that number is likely higher now after two days this week saw double-digit increases.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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