March 17, 2021
TORONTO - The Ontario government is making it easier for businesses to test for COVID-19 in the workplace by providing guidance to employees who want to self-swab for a rapid antigen point-of-care test on a voluntary basis under the supervision of a trained individual. Based on the success of the initial deployment of rapid antigen testing, the government is also expanding the program to more sectors including first responders, emergency medical services, trucking and transportation, wastewater management, and post-secondary institutions. "By expanding rapid testing in the workplace and making it easier to administer, we will be able to maintain critical infrastructure and keep people working," said Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. "These measures are essential to further protect Ontario's workforce as we work together towards a swift recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, stronger and more resilient before." Rapid antigen testing can provide an additional layer of safety in workplaces and provide reassurance to employers and employees alike. By clinically endorsing supervised, voluntary self-swabbing for asymptomatic individuals, Ontario is helping businesses reduce the administrative costs of using antigen tests by allowing staff to consider the option of taking their own swabs under the supervision of a trained individual. "Business owners know best what their businesses need to thrive. These changes will make rapid antigen testing a particularly viable option for the small- and medium-sized companies critical in keeping our province's manufacturing and supply chain moving," said Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister for Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. The province has also removed regulatory barriers governing the use of COVID-19 tests that are approved by Health Canada for point-of-care use to make it easier for organizations to offer onsite testing and support a safe return to work. This change will especially benefit rural and remote communities including Northern Indigenous communities where health professionals required to administer testing are limited. Although point-of-care rapid test devices currently deployed in Ontario are easy to use, their safe and appropriate usage is supported through additional clinical and public health protocols outlined in the updated provincial testing guidance and training materials and webinars that are freely available. "Our government is committed to providing greater flexibility and innovative testing options for additional sectors to help stop the spread of COVID-19," said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. "By providing guidance for voluntary, supervised self-swabbing, frontline and essential workers can have quicker and easier access to testing and have an additional layer of protection. Until vaccines are widely available, I strongly urge everybody to continue following public health measures." Initially launched in November 2020 as a pilot, the Provincial Antigen Screening Program deployed rapid antigen point-of-care tests to essential workplaces and sectors in order to quickly identify and help stop the spread of COVID-19. Ontario has since expanded the Program to provincial scale and has deployed over three million rapid antigen point-of-care tests to priority sectors to date, including but not limited to long-term care and retirement homes, congregate care settings such as adult correctional facilities, and essential industries such as food processing, manufacturing, and construction sites. Rapid antigen point-of-care tests have also been deployed to support asymptomatic testing of staff and students in schools across the province to support safe reopening. As the Provincial Antigen Screening Program continues to expand in the coming weeks, it will see the deployment of over one million tests per week across these and other priority sectors. The province continues to ensure that anyone who needs a test can get a test and receive their results as quickly as possible. Anyone who falls within the current Provincial Testing Guidance should continue to seek publicly funded laboratory-based testing, available at participating pharmacies, specimen collection centres, and assessment centres. If you have COVID-19 symptoms or been exposed, you should get tested at an assessment centre or participating specimen collection centre, including mobile and temporary sites.
An antigen technology-based COVID-19 test that is authorized by Health Canada for point-of-care use can be performed at workplaces by trained individuals and does not require shipping a specimen to a lab for processing. Frequent screening with rapid antigen tests increases the chances of early identification of cases in otherwise asymptomatic individuals.
Individuals who test positive through rapid antigen tests still need to take a confirmatory lab-based PCR test at an assessment centre or participating community lab.
Ontario has also released guidance for individuals or organizations that choose to participate in COVID-19 testing that falls outside of the public health care system, to ensure there is appropriate oversight and consumer protection and that public resources are supporting public health initiatives.
The Ontario government is working with essential industries to identify priority sites, and is proactively reaching out to key companies inviting them to participate in the rapid testing program. Participating sites have been identified by sponsoring ministries based on assessment criteria that looks at the principles of risk, vulnerability and criticality.
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