Two pharmacy testing locations opening in the Niagara Region, plus the province issues new strategies to manage COVID-19 impacts

Premier Doug Ford at a press conference at Queen's Park Premier Doug Ford at today's press conference held at Queen's Park.

The Ontario government will be expanding it’s free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic people to two pharmacies in two Niagara cities.

In related news, the government will also be investing $741 million to reduce health care backlog and increase community health care capacity. And it is changing some rules around restaurants.

The new testing locations in pharmacies in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls will open as early as next Tuesday, Sept. 29. The testing locations offer free COVID-19 tests to asymptomatic individuals only, and by appointment. Niagara Info has requested information on the exact locations, and when it is received, we will publish the updates here.

The government announced today that the two Niagara area locations are included in a list of 18 more pharmacies in southwestern Ontario.

Those 18 locations include: St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, London, Windsor, Sarnia, Bright’s Grove (suburb of Sarnia), Kitchener Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, Chatham, Stratford, Woodstock and St. Thomas. 

The new locations are added to the 60 locations opened today in the Greater Toronto Area, Peel Region, the Ottawa area, and Huntsville. (See related story for more details.)

Reducing health care backlog

In related news, Ontario also announced the next part of the province’s fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarian Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19. The government wants to reduce the health care backlog and expand the capacity and delivery of home and community care across the province.

“The last thing patients and families should have to worry about right now is the cancellation of their surgery or procedure due to the second wave of COVID-19,” announced Premier Ford. “We are moving mountains to make sure all patients get the top-notch care they deserve while clearing the backlog of surgeries. At the same time, we are preparing for any future surge or outbreak in order to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

The government will be adding extra COVID-19 measures to ensure the safety of Ontarians explained Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott in a press conference today. “That included having to put important medical procedures on hold to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all patients within our hospitals. We know how stressful this has been for patients and their loved ones which is why our government is working very hard to create the capacity needed to address the backlog so that patients can get the care that they need.”  

Ontario has also implemented measures to reduce the backlog and improve care including the release of a plan for surgeries and procedures during the pandemic and the investment in virtual care.

Additional measures being put in place by the new investment include:

  • Investing up to $283.7 million to support priority surgeries including cancer, cardiac, cataract, and orthopedic procedures.
  • Expanding diagnostic imaging hours at facilities for MRIs, CT scans, and more
  • Adding 139 more critical care beds and 1,349 more hospital beds in hospitals and alternate health facilities across the province.
  • Working to initiate a centralized waitlist and program to optimize the use of operating rooms. This will improve resources, increase the number of surgical procedures by hundreds on average per year, and improve patient flow.

Expanding health care capacity

The government says it will be investing $457.5 million to increase the capacity and delivery of home and community care.

Ontario has also put in measures to improve access to health since the outbreak. These include improved access to virtual care, providing over 240,000 virtual visits for nursing and rehab homes, investing to address the demand for mental health and addiction services, and more.

Additional measures being put in place with the new investment include:

  • Expanding access to virtual emergency appointments like virtual pre- and post-surgery appointments.
  • Helping up to 850 care patients access to the right level of care in a home or community setting. This will help to increase hospital capacity.
  • Investing $100 million to add additional 484,000 nursing and therapy visits.
  • Investing 1.4 million to support personal support workers.

Further details on Ontario’s fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe, Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19 will continue to be released in the upcoming days.

Restaurant changes to battle COVID-19

The Ontario government also announced today that it will be tightening COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants, bars and other food establishments, as well as closing all strip clubs across the province.

Starting Saturday, Sept 26 at 12:01 a.m., restaurants, bars and food establishments must close at 12:00 a.m. and remain closed until 5:00 a.m. the next morning, except for takeout or delivery. Establishments will no longer be allowed to sell alcohol after 11:00 p.m. and the consumption of alcohol on the premise is prohibited after 12:00 a.m.

Businesses and organizations must also comply with instructions issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health on screening for COVID-19.

“The biggest thing we can all do is to make sure surgeries are not delayed, to make sure we have enough hospital beds, it’s to follow the public health measures – wash your hands, practice physical distancing, wear a mask, and please get a flu shot. It’s these simple things that can save lives and it’s up to all of us to do our part,” said Ford.

Learn More:

Original release and Restaurant changes
Press conference video
Ontario investing $1B into testing and contact tracing
Flu immunization campaign
Ontario offering COVID testing at pharmacies starting Friday
Niagara Public Health contact tracing info
Niagara Public Health COVID-19 page