TORONTO — To provide an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 and variants including Omicron, the province has launched a holiday testing blitz to offer rapid antigen tests to individuals free of charge at pop-up sites across the province, as well as at select LCBO stores across Ontario. This initiative is part of the government’s enhanced COVID-19 testing strategy to mitigate the increased risk of transmission over the holiday season. “Working with local health partners, community organizations, and businesses, we are bringing free rapid testing directly to Ontarians during the holiday season by deploying pop-up teams in priority areas,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “Rapid antigen screening is an additional layer of protection to proactively identify cases and mitigate community transmission, while we continue to strengthen our vaccine rollout to protect ourselves and loved ones.” Throughout December to mid-January, two million rapid tests will be provided free of charge at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings such as malls, retail settings, holiday markets, public libraries and transit hubs, as well as providing vaccine education. Pop-up teams will be deployed at locations across the province, some co-located with GO-VAXX mobile vaccine buses. Most sites will distribute free take-home rapid antigen test kits, subject to supply, and some will offer asymptomatic rapid antigen screening on-site. The government will also make take-home rapid tests available at LCBO stores across Ontario. Ontarians can visit Ontario.ca/holidaytesting to find out if pop-up rapid antigen screening sites will be available in their area. Additional pop-ups, including participating LCBO locations, will be added upon confirmation by individual locations with the website updated weekly. No appointment will be required. People without symptoms of COVID-19 or people who have not had recent exposure to someone with COVID-19 will be able to pick up a package of free tests from a pop-up site, while supplies last, or get a free test performed on-site. At sites distributing tests for use at home, there is a limit of one kit per person. Every person that receives a package of tests or gets a test on-site will be provided with information and resources about rapid antigen screening and COVID-19 vaccination. Anyone who receives a positive result through their rapid test needs to self-isolate and book a lab-based PCR test at a testing site to confirm the result. As of December 14, 2021, Ontario has distributed over 45 million rapid tests to thousands of workplaces, hospitals, home and community care settings, long-term care homes, and schools and childcare centres across the province. This includes an additional 11 million rapid tests for every single public-school student learning in-person ahead of the December break to add an additional layer of protection over the holiday period and as students return to school in January. Ontario continues to look for opportunities to expand access to rapid testing for all Ontarians. With an increased demand for rapid tests and globally constrained supply, the province is continuing to urge the federal government to increase the number of approved rapid tests available for use in Ontario and across the country.
Vaccination against COVID-19 is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus. While testing does not prevent someone from getting COVID-19, access to timely and convenient testing is critical in helping to ensure quick detection and isolation of positive cases.
Individuals picking up a box of rapid tests will need to go through the check-out to access the tests from the LCBO service representatives at cash registers. There will be no obligation to buy alcohol in order to pick up tests.
As the rollout of these pop-up rapid antigen screening sites progresses over the holidays, Ontario will continue to deploy mobile teams providing PCR testing to increase access in vulnerable areas and support outbreak responses. In Fall 2021, mobile vendors were deployed 72 times across the province for outbreak management and increasing local access to diagnostic (PCR) testing. Over the past week, there have been a total of 18 active mobile testing deployments providing specimen collection within the Peel, Halton, York, Simcoe-Muskoka, Algoma, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Southwestern, Niagara, and Haldimand Public Health Units.
To help protect students and school communities against the spread of COVID-19, all public school boards, and interested private and First Nation schools, will receive five-packs of rapid antigen screening kits for their students learning in-person to use over the winter break. To support usage of these screening kits, the Ministry of Education has developed public education videos available in English, French and 15 additional languages.
Diagnostic testing for eligible individuals is available at over 220 assessment centres or community labs, in addition to over 600 participating pharmacies.
Ontario is a national leader in testing with over 20 million lab-based PCR tests processed to date and has the capacity to process over 100,000 lab-based PCR tests per day. As of December 14, 71.5 per cent of tests were processed within one day and 90.3 per cent within two days, well above the provincial targets.
To protect against the Omicron variant, Ontario will be implementing temporary measures to further protect the health and safety of residents, staff and caregivers in long-term care and retirement homes. This includes requiring all general visitors to a long-term care home to be fully vaccinated effective December 14, 2021.
As part of the 2021 Budget, Ontario is investing more than $3.7 billion over two years, including $2.3 billion in 2021-22, in a comprehensive testing strategy to ensure timely access to testing, including targeted testing for vulnerable communities and expanding the capacity to process COVID-19 tests effectively.
Anyone who meets provincial testing eligibility criteria can go to an assessment centre, participating pharmacy, or specimen collection centre for testing. Visit Ontario.ca/covidtestinglocations to find a testing location and for eligibility criteria to be tested.
Businesses are encouraged to visit Ontario.ca/testingonsite for more information on how to access free rapid antigen point-of-care tests for workplace screening.
Visit Ontario’s website to learn more about how the province continues to protect the people of Ontario from COVID-19.
For public inquiries call ServiceOntario, INFOline at 1-866-532-3161 (Toll-free in Ontario only)