Ontario expands guidelines for priority COVID-19 testing

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Ontario expanded its priority COVID-19 testing Thursday to include essential workers, residents and staff of homeless shelters and group homes, and people living with health-care workers.

The new guidelines will help Ontario take full advantage of the testing capacity it has built and will help the province more effectively identify and contain cases among vulnerable populations, said a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Premier Doug Ford has expressed frustration that Ontario has been processing a daily number of tests well below its capacity, which is now up to 16,000.

On Thursday, the province reported completing 9,001 tests during the previous day, surpassing a target the health minister set last week after the premier said his patience had worn thin.

The new guidelines say people living and working in "congregate" settings such as homeless shelters, correctional facilities and group homes should be tested as soon as possible if they have symptoms.

Symptoms are now defined as fever, pneumonia, "any new or worsening symptom" such as cough or shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, or nasal congestion, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, new smell or taste disorders, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.

Essential workers, cross-border workers, and people living with health-care workers, care providers and first responders are also now to be tested as soon as possible if they develop symptoms.

The guidelines also say people who need to be in frequent contact with the health system, including cancer patients, people undergoing dialysis, anyone pre- or post-transplant and pregnant women should be tested as soon as they develop symptoms.

Testing asymptomatic people is still not recommended, except for newborns whose mothers have COVID-19.

Ontario reported 514 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and 38 more deaths.

That brings the province to a total of 8,961 cases, including 423 deaths and nearly 4,200 cases that have been resolved.

The growth in total cases has been relatively low for about a week, and Ontario health officials have said the peak is expected this week.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 grew slightly to 807, and while the number of people on ventilators also grew, there are fewer people in intensive care.

There have been 104 outbreaks reported in long-term care homes, with cases in 933 residents and 530 staff members. At least 163 residents have died.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 16, 2020.

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