Ottawa Public Health has already warned residents that testing cannot keep up with demand, and people with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 should self-isolate even if they can’t get tested.
Quebec’s health minister warned Monday that testing capacity is stretched thin in that province too – and asked that only people with symptoms seek a test. Labs have recently been processing around 40,000 tests a day, hitting a high of 46,830 on Dec. 15.
“It’s a record since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s, unfortunately, our maximum capacity,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said. “Testing centres should not be a tool to get tested if you’re asymptomatic and you want to gather with your loved ones.”
Dube asked people to prioritize at-home rapid tests to avoid clogging laboratories.
Ontario’s chief public health officer Dr. Kieran Moore said Tuesday the province would soon announce further guidance on prioritizing PCR tests and using rapid antigen tests.
When not everyone who wants a COVID-19 test can get one, it can wreak havoc on data and record-keeping, said Fahad Razak, a general internist at St. Michael’s Hospital, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and a member of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.
“We will probably in the next few days lose sight of where the infections are happening in the province,” he said. “What areas are the most concentrated things like high-risk exposures? So were you in a place where you were exposed to a lot of other people? All of these things become more difficult to do when you don’t have a reliable testing mechanism.”
He says daily case counts could soon be a “considerable underestimation” of the number of people infected, he said.
Provinces might have scaled back their testing capacity during comparatively quieter times, and are now having trouble keeping up, he said. “We’ve never had great TTI capacity: test, trace and isolate capacity,” he said.
The other problem is Omicron itself, he said, and its ability to spread much faster than health systems can test for it.
We have to slow the wave of infections somehow, Razak said.
“In the coming weeks, everyone in this province, in this country, is probably going to develop some immunity to Omicron, either by being vaccinated or getting sick,” he said.
“We can slow the wave and slowing the wave means the public health measures we’ve always talked about. So it’s restricted access to venues for only those who are vaccinated, ensuring good ventilation, wearing a mask, not going into a public setting if you’ve been sick, reducing the size of gatherings for the holidays,” he said.
“No single thing is a magic bullet, but everything together starts to reduce the exposure and the risk of the numbers. And it gives time for more vaccines to be delivered.”
In the meantime, if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms and you’re unable to quickly find a test, act cautiously and follow the advice of your local public health unit.
Symptoms of Omicron COVID-19 infection can include cough, fatigue and congestion or runny nose, according to the World Health Organization. If you have those, stay home.
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