TORONTO – The Ontario Ministry of Health is allowing pharmacies to conduct COVID-19 testing on patients with symptoms for the first time, and tests could be done as soon as this week.
A senior government official told CP24 that the program is voluntary and open to any well-intentioned pharmacy in the province.
It will include on-site COVID-19 PCR swab tests as well as a return program for samples taken at home, similar to the system being rolled out in public schools across the province.
An internal document sent to Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy staff and obtained this week by CP24 says they can only accept high-risk symptomatic people for contact with people who have been diagnosed. diagnosed with COVID-19 and those with symptoms, by appointment only.
“We are aware that there is some concern about this news and would like to assure you that the safety of the Pharmacy Team, Patients and customers remains of paramount importance,” a memo sent to the Shoppers pharmacist stated. “With this in mind, we are working through the necessary support and infrastructure to enable the secure provision of symptom testing in stores, including access to PPE, which requires space and (standard operating procedures) required to provide this service safely and efficiently. ”
Staff at pharmacies have been told that up to 138 locations Shoppers that have been approved for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing can begin offering first appointments to people with symptoms. as early as Wednesday.
A pharmacist who is not authorized to speak to the media told CP24 they were concerned about sending people with symptoms of illness into a pharmacy that regularly welcomes the elderly and immunocompromised to pick up prescriptions. and children too young to wear masks, posing an unacceptable risk.
They also expressed concern about proper ventilation and air filtration in the entire pharmacy where symptom testing was conducted.
The document from Loblaws, which owns Shoppers Drug Mart, was written by a senior director in the company’s health and wellness division. It said pharmacies will only be able to admit symptomatic patients by appointment, and that they will be required to wear a mask for the duration of their stay in the pharmacy, and staff completing sampling will wear gowns, gloves, surgical masks, and eye protection, with the requirement to wear protective items and dispose of them after each interaction with a symptomatic person.
Each participating Shoppers pharmacy will be sent a highly efficient particulate air (HEPA) filter to run in an enclosed area where symptomatic specimen collection will be conducted.
The document says pharmacies with space issues will be able to administer vaccines and perform other tasks in the same room as they take COVID-19 to symptomatic patients, provided that “the Mandatory cleaning procedures must be followed between services”.
Staff will not be allowed to pick up symptomatic patients outdoors as an added safety measure.
Testing of asymptomatic individuals will be allowed to be in the same room as symptomatic individuals, provided that “mandatory hygiene procedures are followed”.
If a participating pharmacy is unable to reserve an enclosed room for specimen collection, they may use “privacy screens to increase overall service delivery, as long as the patient’s privacy can be maintained.” patient”.
The Department of Health said it expects specimen collection to take place in a dedicated space, paying attention to the separation of appointments and ventilation throughout the participating site.
In response to customer backlash over the new testing effort, the company said it is “working closely with our communications team to help support the message of this program and the important role it plays in the program.” The importance of pharmacies in providing access to testing to Patients, along with safety precautions will be put in place to protect Associations, their employees and Patients. ”
The Department of Health said it hopes pharmacies that conduct symptom checks will have more signs warning all customers that it’s happening.
Other Canadian provinces allow asymptomatic testing at pharmacies, but Ontario appears to be the first authority in Canada to allow people with symptoms, which often include a cough and can sometimes be accompanied by symptoms. Follow nausea or vomiting to the pharmacy for testing.
When asked about the new testing effort, including what is planned to alert other customers to symptom tests happening and whether staff may wear respirators during sample collection object or not, Loblaws referred all inquiries to the Ontario Ministry of Health.
The Ministry of Health official said the province will soon set up a website listing pharmacies participating in the program.