Ontario investing over $1B to expand the largest provincial testing initiative in Canada

Premier Doug Ford at a press conference at Queen's Park Premier Doug Ford at today's press conference in the media studio at Queen's Park.

The Ontario government will invest $1.07 billion to expand COVID-19 testing and contact trace management and $30 million immediately for outbreak management in priority and vulnerable sectors.

“By ramping up our daily testing capacity to 50,000 tests and closely monitoring our long-term care homes and schools, we can quickly respond to any outbreaks and surges and stop the spread of this deadly virus in its tracks,” said Premier Doug Ford.

“In doing so, we will also support long-term care home, schools, hospitals to effectively prevent, track and contain outbreaks of COVID-19,” added Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott.

Expanding testing and contact management

The Ford government has several measures in place to help with testing and contact management. These include 150 assessment centres, 1,700 contact tracers, COVID Alert app, and more to help educate and keep Ontarians informed during the pandemic.

The $1 billion investment will add to the measures already implemented by including more testing locations, like the 60 new locations opening in participating pharmacies and offering of more testing options, like saliva testing being offered in three Ontario hospitals.

The government will also be adding more testing capacity and more case and contact managers. More lab and professional staff will be hired in the coming weeks and 500 Statistics Canada employees and 500 new contact tracers will also be hired.

With these new measures, Ontario expects to accomplish the following:

  • A better testing turnaround with 80 per cent of tests resulted delivered within 48 hours
  • Maintain test positivity rate under three per cent
  • Ensure sufficient case management and contact tracing capacity to continue reaching 90 per cent of cases within 24 hours
  • Compliance with public health measures

Managing outbreaks

The government has also put measures in place to improve outbreak prevention and management. These include deploying hospital infection prevention and control resources to support long-term care homes, and COVID-19 surveillance to monitor and detect cases and outbreaks quickly. It has also named Dr. Dirk Huyer as Coordinator of Provincial Outbreak Response.  

The $30-million investment will build on the efforts to improve outbreak management through the following:

  • Providing over $510 million through the Social Service Relief Fund to municipal Service Managers and Indigenous Program Administrators to protect vulnerable populations
  • Distributing an outbreak guidance toolkit made by Emergency Management Ontario to support outbreak management
  • Holding virtual simulation exercises to test outbreak response protocols in schools, universities, and correctional facilities. Additional exercise will be planned to manage outbreak responses in indigenous communities, long-term care homes, and retirement homes.

These measures are designed to contain and prevent outbreaks rapidly, especially in high-risk settings and among vulnerable populations.

The investment is another part of the COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarian Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19. This is in addition to the flu shot campaign and pharmacy testing locations announced earlier this week. Further details on this plan, officials say, will be shared in the upcoming days.

Understanding Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is the process conducted by public health after and individual tests positive for COVID-19. When there is a confirmed case, the individual is contacted to ensure they are isolating and to gather information about where they have been and who they have been in contact with.

Those deemed to be at risk, are then contacted and told to isolate as public health provides direction on what they should do next.

Contact tracing is a similar process for individuals and members of a community, workplace, health care institution, or part of a school.

When there is a school outbreak, for example, public health contacts the school to determine who has been in close contact with the infected individual. Those deemed at risk, typically those in the same class as the person who has tested positive will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. In some cases, family members will also need to be tested. Typically, testing is NOT recommended as it will likely be too early to get an accurate result.

Not everyone that goes to the school has been exposed. If you have not been in close contact with the individual that tested positive, you will not be contacted by Public Health.

Niagara Region Public Health has released an approximately three minute video that explain contact tracing in more detail.

If you have any questions about COVID-19, please contact the Niagara Region Public Health by calling 905-688-8248 or 1-888-505-6074, or chat online with a public health professional.

More info:

Original release
Press conference video
Flu immunization campaign
Ontario offering COVID testing at pharmacies starting Friday
Niagara Public Health contact tracing info
Niagara Public Health COVID-19 page