No symptoms needed for COVID testing

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), said in a press release that anyone exhibiting mild symptoms such as cough or headaches is eligible to go and get tested at the assessment centre.

“Not only is testing a very important way of keeping track of COVID-19, but to also control this pandemic,” Gemmill said. “Testing has been continuing in our assessment centres in the northwest. To date, we have had about 3,700 tests performed, of which 2850 are negative.”

This comes after Premier Doug Ford announced on Sunday that everyone can go get tested without showing symptoms.

“Please go get a test. You will not be turned away,” Ford said. “And bring your family along with you to get tested.”

The new testing policy in Ontario includes expanding the criteria to contain those experiencing mild symptoms, those who believe they have been exposed or those who have no symptoms from essential workers to members of the public.

“The symptom array now is very broad. Any person who may have any likelihood or possibility of having this infection should be tested,” Gemmill said. “There are a lot of capabilities in the testing centres now that were not available six weeks ago. The issue right now is not having the swabs and the mechanisms, but having people come forward to get tested.”

Since the time assessment centres received individuals to get tested, there was a backlog of turnaround time, the time from when the swab is taken to the time the physician enters the results.
Gemmill said this was because the assessment centres needed to get everything in place to run the tests.

“They were ramping up; they did not have everything in place they needed to have,” Gemmill said. “They were buying equipment and getting the chemicals they needed. They were trying to get the proper test kits and the swabs for the tests.”

Gemmill also said he attributes this backlog to the transportation time. All of the tests done in the northwest have to get shipped to Toronto’s Public Health Ontario Laboratory.

“A week ago they asked for tests of all residents and staff of long term care homes,” Gemmill said. “The volume of these tests also created a backlog.”

Gemmill said that time now is getting much, much better with the capabilities to run 17,000 tests a day. Theoretically, there should be a reasonable turnaround time, he added.

“If you have symptoms, do take precautions while going to the assessment centres,” Gemmill said. “Go by a means of transportation that does not expose other people. The assessment centres will have very good infection control practices for when you arrive.”

That being said, Gemmill said he is still encouraging individuals who get tested to remain in self-isolation until the tests come back negative.

If an individual is tested with symptoms, we do recommend strongly for them to remain in isolation.

“The reason for this is that if you happen to have the virus then you are protecting others,” Gemmill said.