Ontario conducting fewer COVID-19 tests daily as cases keep climbing

Public health experts urge province to test more widely, while health minister promises increase ‘soon’

Mike Crawley · CBC News · Posted: Apr 08, 2020 5:00 AM ET | Last Updated: 19 minutes ago

The number of COVID-19 tests completed in Ontario each day has dwindled steadily over the past week, raising concerns that the province is missing cases of the illness and failing to capture the true spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Data from the Ministry of Health shows there were just 2,568 new test results provided on Tuesday. That’s roughly half the daily target of 5,000 that the government promised to achieve in late March, and far short of the 19,000 tests per day promised for the third week of April. 

The slower-than-promised pace continued Wednesday, with Ontario announcing 3,237 new test results.

To best combat, the spread of COVID-19, experts in public health and epidemiology say Ontario needs to be testing more rather than less. 

“I am a little bit concerned that we don’t have a very good handle of what’s happening with this epidemic right now,” Dr. Jeff Kwong, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of Toronto, told CBC News.

“If we can identify more of the cases that are in the community it will help give us a better idea of what’s going on.” 

Ontario is testing a smaller portion of its population than anywhere else in Canada. Quebec, B.C. and Alberta are each testing at double the province’s rate.  

The reason for the shortfall appears to be that Ontario continues to restrict who gets tested by recommending against testing people who have not recently travelled internationally, even if they have symptoms of COVID-19.   

Ontario COVID-19 cases near 2,000 as schools set to stay closed until at least May

Premier, education minister scheduled to make an announcement at 1 p.m. ET

Ontario confirmed 260 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the provincial total to 1,966 as families learn that students won’t be going back to class until at least May.

The tally includes 33 deaths and 534 cases that are considered resolved.

An additional 4,280 people are awaiting test results, while a total of 51,629 tests have been approved.

The province has also offered this breakdown of the total cases since Jan. 15, 2020:

  • 49.8 percent are male, while 49.5 percent are female.
  • The median age is 50, ranging in age from less than one to 100 years of age.
  • Greater Toronto Area public health units account for 59.1 percent of cases in Ontario.
  • 25.7 percent had traveled in the 14 days prior to becoming ill. 
  • 10.2 percent had close contact with a confirmed case.
  • 16.8 percent neither traveled or had closed contact
  • 47.3 percent of cases have exposure information pending.
  • 10.9 percent of the cases were hospitalized.

Meanwhile, a senior government official told CBC Toronto that elementary and high school students in Ontario will be out of class until at least May.

Publicly-funded schools have been closed since March 14 on a ministerial order from Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Private schools were also closed a few days later as part of the province’s emergency declaration.

Schools were initially set to re-open on April 6, but both Premier Doug Ford and Lecce have conceded that the closures would need to be prolonged as the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario continues to increase. 

Ford and Lecce are set to speak with reporters at Queen’s Park at 1 p.m. ET. The news conference will be livestreamed in this story.

Lecce is also expected to announce an e-learning plan for the province’s students during COVID-19 school closures.

The government has been looking at ways to keep course work going while school closures continue, including through online classes.