Canada to do millionth COVID-19 test but numbers still short
The country is averaging 30,000 day but Tam believes provinces have the capacity to expand to 60,000
OTTAWA — Canada is on track to complete its millionth test for COVID-19 sometime in the next 24 hours but is still falling far short of the number of daily tests the country’s chief public health officer said last month should soon be possible.
Dr. Theresa Tam said the pandemic continues to slow right across Canada, with some worrisome hot spots remaining in long-term care homes and in the remote northern region around La Loche, Sask. La Loche, a Dene community 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, has dozens of cases, including 22 new positive tests May 6.
Ontario, which reported 412 new cases, announced some easing of restrictions on businesses. It plans to let garden centres and hardware stores admit customers starting this weekend, and to allow all other retail outlets that have entrances direct from the outdoors open for curbside pickup or delivery next week.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan outlined a gradual reopening of the province’s economy with certain health services, retail outlets, restaurants, salons and museums resuming at least partial operations in mid-May.
All of the government’s reopening plans are contingent on organizations and businesses developing plans that follow provincial guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19.
Hotels, resorts and parks would follow in June, with some entertainment venues opening again in July, but there is no word on when large concerts or professional sports with live audiences will be allowed again.
As of May 6, Tam said more than 970,000 tests have been completed in Canada, an increase of more than 30,000 from the day before. Canada, which has averaged a little more than 30,000 tests a day for the last week, was to pass the one million mark for tests May 7.
But two weeks ago, Tam said she felt provinces had the capacity to expand the daily testing to 60,000.
Tam and deputy public health chief Dr. Howard Njoo say the number of tests done is not as important as ensuring the right tests are being done, on the right people. But Tam said there are provinces expanding their testing criteria to include people with very mild or even abnormal COVID-19 symptoms, hoping to spot possible community cases that are going undetected right now.
Tam said reopening schools and businesses relies heavily on being able to test and trace contacts of positive infections. But because so much of the spread of COVID-19 can come from people without any symptoms, she also stressed that physical distancing and hand washing will remain critical as schools and businesses reopen.
Ontario failed to meet its provincial target of 16,000 tests for the second day in a row May 6, after exceeding it for the previous three days. Just under 13,000 tests were done May 5, and 10,564 on May 4.
Premier Doug Ford said Ontario’s overall case numbers are good enough to start easing restrictions on the retail sector. Ford said, however, that Ontario is “nowhere close” to following Quebec’s lead and allowing seniors in private retirement residences where no COVID-19 is present to have visitors or go outside for walks. Quebec announced May 5 its move to lift those restrictions starting next week.
More than 220 seniors’ homes in Ontario, and more than 250 in Quebec, have reported outbreaks of COVID-19. Nationally, more than 80% of all deaths are linked to long-term care, a fact Tam said is behind the reason Canada’s death total of more than 4,100 is about 200 more than national projections had predicted.
Outside of Quebec, Ontario and the La Loche region, the spread of the virus appears to be very slow. Atlantic Canada reported just eight new cases in total May 6 — seven in Nova Scotia and one in New Brunswick.
PEI officials said only one of the 27 patients confirmed with COVID-19 in that province hasn’t yet recovered. Newfoundland reported no new cases for the fifth day in a row.
By Mia Rabson