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COVID-19 testing in Ontario pharmacies begin; many not eligible

The pharmacy tests, which are available at up to 60 locations across Ontario, are being offered to select asymptomatic individuals

September 25, 2020  Alanna Fairey

TORONTO — Some Ontario pharmacies were set to start offering COVID-19 tests Sept. 25 as the province tries to ease the burden on busy assessment centres.

The appointment-only tests, however, can only be requested by certain asymptomatic individuals — and just who is eligible was already causing confusion.

One woman alerted to possible exposure by the COVID Alert app lined up to get a test before a Shoppers Drug Mart opened at 8 a.m. in downtown Toronto but learned she wasn’t eligible.

Laura Smith said she also didn’t realize pharmacy testing was by appointment only, and that she struggled to find information after getting the alert Thursday night. Smith said she planned to head to a hospital to wait in line.

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The pharmacy tests — available at up to 60 locations across Ontario — are being offered to select asymptomatic individuals, such as those with loved ones in long-term care homes, close contacts of a case or high-risk workers

John Papastergiou, a pharmacy owner at another Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto, said his team was prepared for logistical issues and said pharmacies have had to move quickly to adapt to the pandemic.

“We’re trying to use an appointment model so we don’t have people congregating at the pharmacy, that’s very important,” said Papastergiou.

“We’re emphasizing that this is for asymptomatic patients that need to be pre-screened, you can’t just drop in.”

He said his team was prepared to welcome their first patient, and said the swab that pharmacies will deploy for the tests are particularly easy for staff to use.

The testing swab most Ontarians are familiar with goes deep into the nose, but the ones that pharmacies are offering only touch closer to the end of the nostrils.

“It’s a much, much simpler swab to administer, more comfortable on the patient and easier to do in the pharmacy as well,” said Papastergiou.

The launch of pharmacy screening comes a day after the provincial government changed its guidelines around who can get a test in the province.

Premier Doug Ford had previously said anyone who wanted a test could get one at an assessment centre but announced Thursday that those without symptoms should stay away from the testing sites, with some exceptions.

That means some people with no symptoms who want reassurance they don’t have the virus will not have access to testing offered by the province.

Ford is expected to announce another part of the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan on Sept. 25.