Ontario will be expanding testing options for students, launch testing blitzes for holiday shoppers, and make COVID-19 testing available to people showing COVID-19 symptoms in up to 1,300 pharmacies around the province as the government braces for a likely increase in COVID-19 cases over the winter.
Six hundred pharmacies are expected to begin preparing for symptomatic testing this week and will begin offering those services “in coming days,” according to the government’s Thursday briefing. The government says that participating pharmacies will need to demonstrate an ability to contain the risks of infected individuals spreading the virus, including by offering dedicated testing and collection spaces, enforcing physical distancing, and optimizing ventilation. Not all participating pharmacies will necessarily collect specimens in-store: some may offer at-home self-tests that could then be returned to the pharmacy.
Other jurisdictions have allowed symptomatic testing in pharmacies, officials noted; in the United States, large chains like CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens have worked in partnership with national and state governments to provide no- or low-cost testing options.
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The government is also preparing to offer pop-up testing “blitzes” in higher-traffic places like malls, holiday markets, and other public spaces (specific locations will be announced in December).
PCR self-tests will be distributed to Ontario schools for symptomatic students and asymptomatic students and staff who are identified as close contacts of an infected person. Rapid antigen tests will also be distributed to students in all publicly funded schools before the winter holidays so that children can be home-tested before returning from the holidays.
When students do return from the winter holidays, they will face some renewed restrictions: assemblies will go virtual in January 2022, or potentially earlier; and lunch breaks may be restricted to classroom cohorts if physical distancing can’t be maintained.
The province is also expanding the use of rapid molecular testing in northern Ontario by adding up to 80 sites in both pharmacies and assessment centres.
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