Rapid tests will now be harder to come by for many Ontarians. Here’s what you need to know

Ontario is changing its rules around who can get a rapid antigen test, with public access through pop-up sites ending after Jan. 14 and rapid tests no longer recommended for one-off use — for example, before social events.

Under the new guidelines, rapid tests are being recommended in three contexts:

  • Test-to-work for workers in the province’s highest risk settings. These settings include long-term care and retirement homes, hospitals, paramedic operations, shelters and other congregate care settings, as well as First Nation and Indigenous communities and organizations.

  • People with symptoms of COVID-19 in the education sector and sectors with mandatory vaccine policies.

  • Frequent, rapid testing of asymptomatic people without a confirmed COVID-19 exposure, including healthcare workers who may be required to undertake regular testing in high-risk settings to a minimum of twice weekly. That’s because, the province says, the risk of a false negative has been found to be slightly higher with Omicron than with previous strains.

You can see the province’s new rapid test strategy at the bottom of this story.

Going forward, the province says people who test positive for COVID-19 with a rapid test do not need an additional PCR test as confirmation, nor do they need to report their test result to public health.

Also, if a symptomatic person has two negative RATs separated by 24 to 48 hours, they only need to isolate for 24 hours after their symptoms improve, but not for the previously recommended five-day isolation period.

Public access to rapid tests outside of the prioritized groups will depend on supply. The province says it’s facing a significantly higher demand for rapid tests — of 18 million tests per week through January, while managing a constrained supply.

WATCH | Ontario’s top doctor on COVID-19 testing in the province: 

‘Testing is a luxury’: Ontario’s chief medical officer of health

20 hours ago

Duration 1:22

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should assume they are infected and self-isolate. “Testing is a luxury,” he said. This comes as Ontario changes its rules around who can access rapid tests. 1:22

At a news conference Thursday, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should assume they are infected and should self-isolate.

“Testing is a luxury,” he said, adding there is a global shortage of rapid tests.

The province says it’s developing plans to expand public access to rapid tests now that PCR test eligibility has been limited, but that will depend on supply.

The new guidelines come a day after the federal government said it will distribute 140 million rapid tests across the country this month — four times the number handed out in December.

The province says it has procured 65 million tests for January and that while the federal government has promised another 54.3 million, so far just 100,000 have been received.

Many have resorted to using rapid antigen tests in Ontario recently after the provincial government scaled back on publicly funded PCR testing. The province maintains it has capacity to process 100,000 PCR tests per day, though has to date not met that capacity at any point during the pandemic, and last week restricted testing to those considered high-risk.

On Wednesday, a number of stricter health measures — including widespread business closures and a temporary return to online schooling — took effect in Ontario.

The province has also directed hospitals to pause non-urgent surgeries due to skyrocketing COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

See Ontario’s new rules on rapid testing for yourself here:

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