Peterborough Public Health has been designated as a regional hub for test kits for the novel coronavirus and the health unit expects test result backlogs to improve.
During a media conference on Wednesday, Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, medical officer of health, said while the health unit has been “informally” overseeing test kits for the Peterborough area and monitoring who is doing testing, the province late last week formally designated the health unit as a regional test kit hub. No additional provincial funding comes with the designation, she noted.
Salvaterra said the health unit is now currently assessing the needs of all of its health partners to order enough supplies to meet their respective demands. She says the designation is part of the province’s efforts to expand and enhance testing for COVID-19 across Ontario.
“Peterborough is ready (to test widely),” she said. “We are awaiting guidance on testing for specific vulnerable groups – such as medically compromised patients, essential workers and people living in institutions. But in the meantime, we’ve been redirecting people to the assessment centre for testing.”
Salvaterra says the province has also asked health units to identify additional opportunities to do “targeted surveillance” of long-term care settings.
“All of this is a much more aggressive case-finding approach,” she said.
“We are now ready to look for this virus and stop its spread – even sooner than has been possible in the previous weeks.”
Nearly 1,400 people have been tested in the health unit’s jurisdiction of Peterborough, Peterborough County, Hiawatha First Nation and Curve Lake First Nation. There are currently 355 testing kits are available, Salvaterra said Wednesday.
Salvaterra says the health unit has made “great progress” in the past month to improve the access to COVID-19 testing. The health unit’s first confirmed case was declared on March 12.
“We had limited testing kits due to global storages and limited capacity and not enough access to test everyone who had symptoms of the disease,” she admitted. “Many callers were not offered testing and were advised to self-isolate for 14 days.”
Salvaterra says people can also contact the COVID-assessment centre at Peterborough Regional Health Centre to request an appointment for testing, a family physician or receive a referral and be tested at home by a visiting paramedic. Paramedics are also providing testing for people in emergency shelters. Symptomatic and asymptomatic roommates at a residence are all tested, she noted.
She said capacity has expanded to allow for “timely diagnosis.” Results for priority populations – such as healthcare workers – are usually reported within 24 hours of the specimen arriving at provincial test labs which are now reviewing tests seven days a week.
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The health unit reported 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of data released Tuesday afternoon. There has been one death and 24 of the 53 cases have been declared resolved. Two of the 53 cases are in the intensive care unit at PRHC.
The total confirmed cases over the past 34 days since the first case is approximately 0.64 cases per day. Salvaterra notes cases are now doubling every 25 days as opposed to every four days last month.
“We would definitely want to see this continue,” she said. “We would love to see days with no new cases — that would be very encouraging. And we certainly would want to see the numbers within the hospital, requiring ICU care, we would like to see that decrease.”
She said the trend “continues to look good” but it’s too soon for conclusions.
“We don’t want to be premature and make any conclusions because we know we are only testing a small sample of our total population,” she said. “So we need to make sure we do more aggressive testing in the weeks to come.”
Salvaterra noted outbreaks declared at PRHC and two long-term care facilities in the city — St. Joseph’s at Fleming and Riverview Manor — are all “stable.”
“They’re being contained and there have been no new cases associated with those outbreaks.”
She said health-care workers who have tested positive must have at least two negative tests within 24 hours before being able to return to work.
Salvaterra also wants to see more tests being conducted and with results returning as negative, especially for people more “at-risk” and in more public contact such as essential workers including grocery and pharmacy staff and long-term care staff.
To date, only three of the health unit’s 53 confirmed cases have been linked to community transmission, meaning they are not associated with travel or contact with another confirmed case.
“The more we look for it and can’t find it, the more reassuring it is that we’re not missing it in the community,” she said.
She noted 54 specimens that went into the lab over the Easter long weekend were all negative.
“It’s very encouraging when they come back negative.”
Peterborough Public Health is also launching a digital advertising campaign reminding people who own cottages in the area to refrain from visiting them and remain at their primary place of residence. The health unit says it has support of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers Association to encourage members to stay home to relieve the potential stress on rural communities and their healthcare services.
“We’ve reached out as best as possible and our partners support our message,” said Brittany Cadence, communications for the health unit.
The health unit is also working on a case-by-case basis with some area trailer parks to ensure some “snowbirds” are complying with self-isolation after returning to Canada from the U.S.
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