COVID-19 testing capacity in Ottawa pushed to limit; OPH urging symptomatic people to isolate

Ottawa Public Health is urging all residents who have any COVID-19 symptoms to assume they have contracted the virus and self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status or rapid antigen test result.

This direction comes as testing capacity is overwhelmed in the face of the Omicron variant of concern. Testing centres were booked solid on Sunday.

A letter sent by OPH to doctors, nurse practitioners and clinicians Friday says there is not enough capacity to test everyone in a timely manner.

“Because of this unfortunate reality, OPH will be directing people with any symptoms of COVID-19 who are unable to access a timely COVID-19 test to assume that they are infected with Omicron and self-isolate immediately for 10 days from symptom-onset,” the health unit said. “Their household contacts, regardless of vaccination status, will also be directed to isolate.”

There has been a huge demand for rapid antigen tests, with the province handing out free kits at select locations. The Minto Barrhaven Recreation Centre at 3500 Cambrian Rd. will have the kits this coming week, according to the province.

However, OPH advises that anyone with symptoms should remain isolated, even if they test negative on a rapid test.

“Symptomatic individuals must self-isolate even if they test negative on a rapid antigen test as these tests can produce false negative results,” the health unit said.

OPH anticipates that testing capacity will need to be preserved for essential workers and to protect the most vulnerable sectors of society. In the meantime, Ottawa’s medical officer of health is asking residents to remain home when sick and continue to practice other pandemic control measures.

“We know we don’t need a test to protect others,” said Dr. Vera Etches in a statement on Friday. “If you have symptoms, you should assume you have COVID-19 and self-isolate. Similarly, your household members need to isolate regardless of your vaccination status.”

Last week, OPH said the surge was also overwhelming its case and contact management system, meaning there is a significant delay in reaching out to high-risk contacts of people who have tested positive. The health unit has asked anyone who gets a positive result to tell their close contacts themselves.

Ottawa’s test positivity rate on Friday was 6.3 per cent, the highest it has been since the spring.

“If you have been tested and are waiting for test results, isolate until you receive a negative result. Do not attend school, sports or extracurricular activities while waiting for test results. Interacting with others, and not following public health guidance can have significant ripple impacts on others in the community,” Etches said.

OPH reported 333 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, the highest daily case count since early May. There are nearly 1,700 known active cases in the city. Five people are currently in hospital with an active case of COVID-19. There are zero COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

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