Testing, assessment opens to new ‘prioritized groups’ in region

Testing for COVID-19 is opening up to more people in the Region of Waterloo, public health officials say. 

Previously, testing was largely limited to health-care workers, hospital patients and people living and working in long-term care homes who were showing symptoms of COVID-19. 

Now essential workers showing symptoms will be eligible for testing. So will people living in the same household as healthcare workers and certain vulnerable groups, said the region’s acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang at public heath’s daily media briefing. 

The full list of people eligible for COVID-19 testing in the Region of Waterloo now includes: 

  • Essential workers, as defined by the Province of Ontario.
  • People living or working in long-term care or retirement homes.
  • Healthcare workers, including caregivers (including volunteers or family members), care providers (including privately-hired) and first responders. 
  • People living in the same household as healthcare workers.
  • People living or working in homeless shelters, prisons, correctional facilities, group homes, community supportive living facilities, short-term rehab, hospices, essential worker day cares, disability-specific settings and other shelters. 
  • People living in Indigenous, isolated, or rural communities. 
  • Medically-vulnerable people who are in regular contact with medical centres, including those going through chemotherapy, dialysis, who are pretransplant or postransplant, people who are pregnant or newborns. 
  • Cross-border workers.

Healthcare workers can arrange for testing through Region of Waterloo Public Health, said Wang. 

There are two community assessment centres that can now also handle testing for people who fall into the other categories, she said, but the centres are by appointment only. 

“People are asked to contact their primary care provider, or if they don’t have one, a walk-in clinic, for a phone or virtual visit, then their practitioner can refer them to one of the assessment centres for a booked appointment.”

If people don’t have a health card, they can reach out to Region of Waterloo Public Health, said Wang. 

Two more deaths at Forest Heights Revera

Two more people living in long-term care facilities in Waterloo region have died of COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to 19 as of Friday morning, according to Region of Waterloo Public Health. 

Both deaths were at Forest Heights Revera Long Term Care in Kitchener. 

Five of its residents have now died from the virus, while 54 residents have tested positive. So have 38 staff, since an outbreak was declared on April 1. 

“When the virus enters a long-term care home, or a retirement home, it can spread very, very quickly,” said Wang. “So we’re finding out about some phenomenon that we didn’t understand as well before.”

“The takeaways are: 1) it can spread really quickly, and 2) the people in these settings are very vulnerable,” she said. 

Forest Heights is just one of 14 long-term care homes to have declared an outbreak in the area covered by the Region of Waterloo Public Health Unit. Outbreaks are declared in these facilities when a single case is confirmed or presumed positive. 

According to public health, long-term care and retirement home outbreaks are now the primary form of transmission for COVID-19 in the area, representing 38 per cent of cases. Second is community transmission, at 31 per cent and then close contact with someone already diagnosed with the virus, at 22 per cent. 

Up to now, the region had not been testing everyone with symptoms for COVID-19. Public health prioritized tests for health-care workers, hospital patients and people living and working in long-term care homes until April 17. 

Friday, public health said 399 people have now tested positive or are presumptive for COVID-19 in Waterloo region, and a third of those cases —138 — are now resolved.

A presumptive case is one that has been tested at a lab and comes back positive, but the results need to be confirmed by a second lab.

No new positive cases in Wellington—Dufferin—Guelph

No new positive test results came back on Friday in the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit, with the number of people infected staying steady at 169 and no new deaths. 

The public health unit also said the outbreak declared at St. Joseph’s Health Centre is over. It was declared in the hospital’s Apple Blossom Unit on March 31. 

Outbreaks continue at:

  • Caressant Care in Fergus. 
  • Dufferin Oaks in Fergus.
  • Headwaters Health Centre in Orangeville. 
  • Homewood Health Centre in Guelph.
  • Norfolk Manor in Guelph.
  • Shelburne Residence in Shelburne. 
  • Wellington Terrace in Fergus. 

More workers laid off in Guelph

The City of Guelph announced Friday afternoon 127 more workers have been temporary laid off and put on “declared emergency leave.” 

The decision was made at an emergency council meeting on Thursday night. All of the staff members are full-time employees. Some are unionized, some are not, the city said in a media release. 

“The change means the City will avoid $745,000 in compensation each month while employees are on leave,” the release said.

The city anticipates it will save $1 million dollars per month in staff salaries when added to the casual and part-time staff that had been temporarily laid off earlier in April.

Critical services provided by the city, including garbage pickup, transit or emergency response, are not affected. The layoffs are in departments affected by extended facility closures, such as recreation or library services.

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