COVID-19 testing system operating smoothly, positivity rate low
Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says that COVID-19 testing capacity and turnaround time have improved both locally and across the province since the start of October.
“The wait time is down to 20 minutes at our booked appointment site. That’s brilliant,” Dr. Moore said. “I think the system is working better than it did at the beginning of the month. Assessments are quicker, bookings are more patient-centric, and the turnaround time in the labs is improving.”
COVID-19 testing facilities across the province moved from walk-in to appointment-based operations on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2020. COVID-19 testing for people without symptoms also rolled out to Ontario pharmacies, including two locations in Kingston.
The changes came after people across Ontario faced hours in line at COVID-19 assessment centres, with some ultimately being turned away until the next day. In contrast, as of 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, it was still possible to book a same-day test for COVID-19 in the KFL&A area.
The wait time to receive test results at the start of October reportedly ranged between four and eight days. Dr. Moore said the wait is now two days, and that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are typically contacted within 24 hours.
The number of tests processed does appear to have slightly decreased, concurrent with the shift to booked appointments.
Between Sunday, Oct. 5 and Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, 5,936 test swabs were taken between KFL&A Public Health region’s three COVID-19 assessment centres. During the same date range in September, 8,037 swabs were performed.
However, during that time period, the provincial government dropped the requirement for students presenting a single, mild symptom, such as a runny nose, to go for COVID-19 testing. As such, the demand for testing has also decreased.
Dr. Moore said the pharmacy testing centres are ideal for people that need to get a COVID-19 swab for work, such as employees in long-term care facilities. They’re also appropriate for healthy individuals that need a test prior to visiting a high-risk facility, he said.
For those in Kingston with symptoms, such as a fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, or those who have been notified by Public Health that they are a high-risk contact of someone with COVID-19, he reiterated that testing should be done at the Beechgrove Assessment Centre in Kingston, the Queen’s University Assessment Centre on campus, or the Lennox & Addington Community General Hospital Assessment Centre in Napanee.
“You will be offered a visit with a family doctor. If your test is positive, Public Health contacts you very rapidly – normally within 24 hours,” he said.
Watching the numbers – Test positivity rate vs. new case numbers
Local infectious disease expert, Dr. Gerald Evans, also weighed in this week on the value of certain COVID-19 data metrics.
“I think it’s worth mentioning that new test positivity rate is a better marker than new case numbers,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2020. “That continues to rise in Ontario and is an upstream vs. downstream signal like hospitalizations and deaths.”
Evans shared this insight in response to a 48-part “megathread” posted by Toronto infections disease and epidemiology PhD student Jean-Paul Soucy entitled: “Stop reacting to the daily COVID case counts.” Soucy argued that daily counts are only a snapshot within a greater trend, and represent what the epidemic looked like one to two weeks previous.
Kingston’s seven-day average positivity rate can be found on KFL&A Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, under Assessment & Testing. Locally, the average positivity rate peaked on Tuesday, Mar. 31 at 9.12 percent. Only 394 tests were processed during that seven day period, as testing was limited to people that had travelled outside of the country, or who had come into close contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Since then, as testing has broadened to the general public, the percent positive seven-day moving average has only been as high as 0.61 per cent. This peak occured on Monday, Jun. 29, during Kingston’s nail salon outbreak. During the seven-day period prior, 4,933 tests were processed. Between Saturday, Aug. 1 and Tuesday, Aug 18, the KFL&A region maintained a 0.0 per cent positivity rate, while 5,468 tests were completed.
More recently, between Thursday, Oct. 1 and Thursday, Oct. 15, the seven-day average percent positivity rate has hovered between 0.25 and 0.45, peaking on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. It dropped to 0.13 per cent on Friday, Oct. 16, and has remained below 0.20 per cent since then.
Province-wide, the total percent positivity as of Thursday, Oct. 22 was 2.9 per cent. This was an increse of 0.4 per cent from the previous day.
There are have been no deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the KFL&A Public Health area since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.