The Ontario government is looking to expand its COVID-19 testing in pharmacies to include symptomatic individuals, states a memo obtained by Global News from a Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist.
Currently, only those people who show no symptoms are allowed to walk into pharmacies such as Shoppers Drug Mart to take a COVID-19 PCR test.
“The Ministry of Health is expanding COVID-19 diagnostic testing options for Ontarians to ensure that anyone who needs a test can get one and get their results as quickly as possible,” the memo says.
“The MoH will soon be announcing changes to the pharmacy COVID-19 PCR testing program for asymptomatic individuals to allow testing for symptomatic individuals and high-risk contacts.”
A government source confirmed to Global News the changes allowing symptomatic COVID-19 testing at pharmacies, that want to opt-in, will occur across the province.
In the memo, Shoppers Drug Mart said they are working to implement the infrastructure required to conduct symptomatic testing, such as full PPE for staff conducting the testing, as well as spacing, increased sanitization, and a HEPA Air Purifier.
The testing will take place in a private space within pharmacies, the memo said.
The memo indicated anyone with symptoms who wants a test will have to book an appointment online. They will be asked to wear a mask at all times and leave the pharmacy immediately after testing.
No walk-ins will be permitted for anyone who is symptomatic.
The memo also indicates the 138 Shoppers Drug Mart stores, which are part of asymptomatic testing already, will be part of the first phase of the symptomatic testing “since they already have many of the processes and requirements set up to accommodate PCR sample collection.” A tentative start date of Nov. 17 is noted.
The pharmacist who shared the memo, and is not authorized to speak publicly, told Global News in an email that the change is “inappropriate and dangerous” because it allows people with symptoms to enter a pharmacy where there are seniors, people with medical conditions and young children unable to wear masks.
The pharmacies will also be able to serve as drop-off points for at-home tests, if they want to participate in the program.
In an unrelated press conference Tuesday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said the change in testing is due to high vaccination rates in Ontario, the masking policy, and other protocols in place.
“We have learned so much over the last 20 months so we are going to be very cautious,” Ford said. “I have confidence [the pharmacies] will do a fine job.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory also commented Tuesday on the new testing expansion.
“These are all concerns,” Tory said. “One hopes that if this is going to be going on that appropriate precautions are taken to make sure that those who might be more vulnerable are not put in the same place as those who may be coming to be tested who might be carrying the virus.”
“Common sense and responsibility on the part of corporate people and on behalf of citizens and I think we can make all of this work,” Tory said.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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