Pharmacist Glen Sisak goes over a prescription with a customer at PharmaChoice pharmacy. VOICE FILE

The Ontario government has announced enhanced Covid-19 testing, with a broad expansion of the number of publicly funded testing locations for those with and without symptoms.

“While vaccination remains the best way to protect against Covid-19, testing remains a key part of our pandemic response by detecting cases earlier and providing an additional layer of safety,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, in a press release. “As we head into the colder months, we are enhancing our testing strategy to ensure that every Ontarian, regardless of where they live, can access testing closer to home when they need it and get a test result as quickly as possible.”

Several testing strategies will be deployed across the province in the near future, in an effort to mitigate the increased risk of transmission over the winter months. The most significant is the introduction of publicly-funded Covid-19 PCR specimen collection in select pharmacies and “pop-up” locations for all individuals eligible for testing, including symptomatic individuals and close contacts. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests detect genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus.

Pharmacies choosing to offer this service will be required to follow stringent infection prevention and control measures to protect staff, patients, and customers. However, it appears none of the four pharmacies in Pelham will be offering Covid-19 testing, at least in the short term.

Kyle Boggio, pharmacist/owner at the Boggio Family of Pharmacies on Highway 20 in Fonthill, told the Voice that they are considering the possibility of offering Covid-19 testing in the future, but do not currently provide the service. Pharmacist/owner Glen Sisak, at PharmaChoice in the Fonthill Food Basics plaza, is not offering Covid-19 testing at this time.

Bruce McAlpine, pharmacist/owner of PharmaSave, in the Pelham Hills Plaza, said that the location currently does Covid-19 testing of non-symptomatic patients at a cost of $40, but is unsure if he will be offering testing at no cost to symptomatic persons, which is the focus of the government’s announcement.

Shopper’s Drug Mart, in the Fonthill Shopping Centre at 20 Highway 20 East, did not respond to a request for comment, but is not included on a government list of Covid-19 test locations in the area.

Pharmacies in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland, and Thorold are included on the list, searchable by postal code: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/assessment-centre-locations

Another government health strategy is to allow take-home PCR self-collection kits, allowing individuals to pick up their free test and drop off their specimens at participating pharmacies across Ontario, providing a more convenient testing option in rural areas. Take-home PCR self-collection kits will also be made available to all publicly-funded schools for students and staff who are eligible for testing.

Mr. Mustafa Hirji, the Acting Medical Officer of Health for Niagara Region, is in agreement with the government’s move.

“It’s a good thing,” he told the Voice. “There are parts of Niagara where it’s a bit of a long drive to get to an assessment centre, and if people can now get a test at a local pharmacy, that’s really good news. My one worry is that pharmacies are places where people, often with underlying medical conditions, do shopping and pick up their medications. Now they may be going into pharmacies to get their vaccinations. I worry about people who have symptoms of illness going in for Covid-19 tests, and potentially spreading the virus. I’m hearing that some pharmacies are planning a curb-side vaccination service, where people don’t actually go into store. I think that’s great, and am hoping most pharmacies will adopt a model like that. But we get all the benefit of more testing.”

 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Dr. Mustafa Hirji’s job title. The error has been corrected.