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Wait list for COVID-19 test results balloons to 11,000 in Ontario

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2020-03-26 Mike Crawley
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 18: An attendant in full protective gear aides people through the entrance of the Assessment Centre at Sunnybrooke Hospital in Toronto.        (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) © Getty TORONTO, ON - MARCH 18: An attendant in full protective gear aides people through the entrance of the Assessment Centre at Sunnybrooke Hospital in Toronto. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Nearly 11,000 Ontarians who have been tested for COVID-19 are waiting for their results, as the backlog at the province's public health lab continues to grow. 

New figures published Thursday by the Ministry of Health show 10,965 people are "under investigation" for coronavirus, which means a sample has been taken, but the test has yet to be processed.

Ontario has faced criticism for the slow pace of testing. The province has conducted 38,550 tests but has only provided 27,585 results. By contrast, British Columbia has conducted more than 31,000 tests, roughly two and a half times the per capita testing rate of Ontario. 

Epidemiologists say widespread testing is an important component of the fight against COVID-19 and accurately tracking the spread of the virus.

Ontario has restricted testing largely to health care workers, people who have travelled outside the country, and people already in hospitals and long-term care homes. Health officials say the system simply doesn't have the capacity to test everyone who has symptoms of COVID-19.

People are reporting waits of five days or more for their results, including an Ontario cabinet minister. Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy tweeted that he received his result Wednesday, six days after being tested, and is negative for COVID-19.

As the backlog grew last week, Heath Minister Christine Elliott called what was then a four-day wait for test results "not acceptable." That was March 18. She later said the province has a plan to increase the pace of test processing to 5,000 per day, and promised it would reach that target by the end of this week. 

Premier Doug Ford has said the province is looking at using private medical labs as well as university labs to handle more COVID-19 tests.  

Ford said Monday that a short supply of a compound called reagent, which is used to process test samples, is the "biggest issue" slowing down the pace at labs.

"We're going to do everything we can to get more reagent," he said. "We will spare no expense to make sure we get hold of this product." 

Health officials are scheduled to provide an update Thursday afternoon on the province's efforts to expand lab testing capacity. 

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