OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health is defending the process being used to test patients for novel coronavirus, while repeating that COVID-19 is circulating in the community.

Some Ottawa residents have questioned the testing criteria at the COVID-19 Community Assessment Centre, saying they’ve been turned away despite having symptoms.

Speaking to reporters in a teleconference Friday afternoon, Dr. Etches said that in a “perfect world” health officials would test everyone with respiratory symptoms for COVID-19 and follow up with their close contacts.

But Dr. Etches says “we don’t have the capacity to do that many swabs right now” and health officials need to find “alternative” ways to look at the spread of the virus in the community.

There are 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, but the Medical Officer of Health has suggested there could be 2,000 cases in the community.

More than 2,200 people have been tested for COVID-19 at Ottawa’s COVID-19 Community Assessment Centre since it opened on Friday, March 13.

The Community Assessment Centre at Brewer Arena says people should only go to the COVID-19 Assessment Centre if:

  • You have a new or worsening cough and/or fever
  • In the past 14 days have either travelled outside of Canada or been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19

Dr. Etches says until we’re in an “ideal world where everyone can be tested”, right now “the priority for testing needs to be those where it’s going to make a difference in how our health care system functions. If we have health care workers that are sick, we need to make sure they can get back to work.”

The Medical Officer of Health says testing also needs to prioritize institutions to limit any potential spread of novel coronavirus.

Health officials are also using modelling, emergency room visits and hospital admissions to track the number of cases of COVID-19 in the community.


The Medical Officer of Health says the COVID-19 Community Assessment Centre has enough supplies, despite the limited number of swabs available across Canada.

Dr. Etches told reporters “the assessment centre at Brewer is able to operate with enough supplies for the next three to five days.”

The Community Assessment Centre does about 350 swab tests a day for COVID-19, and Etches says “they seem to be able to manage that with their supplies going forward.”

Dr. Etches admits there are a limited number of swabs available for testing, and public health officials are “thinking about how to use them in the best way until we can increase the production of them.”

Delays in testing

The wait time for Ottawa residents to receive the results of their COVID-19 test result has changed. Patients were initially told the results would be available in one to two days.

Dr. Etches says the volume of tests has slowed down the process to get results, and officials are now doing two tests on a swab.  

“Instead of doing two tests for the COVID-19 virus on each sample, they’re doing one test first – a very sensitive test – to rule out coronavirus. When that test comes back negative, they can tell people it’s negative – you do not have coronavirus-19.”

Dr. Etches says officials will do a second test on anything that is positive to determine if it is a confirmed case of novel coronavirus.

People who have an “indeterminate test” would be told there will be a second test to confirm COVID-19.

The Ontario Government says officials can do about 3,000 tests per day. The hope is to increase the capacity to 5,000 next week.