COVID-19 Laboratory Testing in Ontario

Laboratory testing is an essential component of Ontario’s response to COVID-19. Not only because it tells us if someone has COVID-19 or not, but also because it sheds light on where and how the virus is spreading.

 

Laboratory testing is an essential component of Ontario’s response to COVID-19. Not only because it tells us if someone has COVID-19 or not, but also because it sheds light on where and how the virus is spreading.

PHO’s laboratory conducts over 6 million tests every year at our 11 sites across Ontario on a broad range of clinical and environmental samples – operating one of the largest public health laboratory systems in the world.

PHO performs thousands of COVID-19 tests every day in partnership with many hospital, academic and private labs across the province. This network of labs, coordinated by Ontario Health, has come together rapidly since early 2020, in order to meet the increased demand for testing. Find out more about the early days of COVID-19 testing in Ontario.

In addition to performing tests, PHO acts as Ontario’s reference laboratory for COVID-19 testing. This means that we provide support to new labs as they come online with testing and also validate early samples from those labs to confirm the accuracy of the testing. We also validate new test methods (in collaboration with partner labs, including the National Microbiology Lab) and provide expertise to inform the evolution of Ontario’s testing strategy, including how these new methods are implemented.

How is testing for COVID-19 done?

There are two primary methods used in Ontario for COVID-19 testing:

  1. PCR testing (also known as polymerase chain reaction testing), is a type of test that tells us if someone currently has COVID-19. It uses a sample collected with a swab from the person’s nose/throat.

  2. Serology testing tests someone’s blood to see if they have antibodies for COVID-19. This primarily tells us if someone previously had COVID-19. Currently this test is used in limited clinical situations.

Find out more about the difference between these two types of tests and their application.

Who should be tested for COVID-19?

The Ministry of Health develops testing guidance for COVID-19 that is updated as the outbreak continues to evolve and laboratory testing capacity increases.

PHO does not currently recommend routine testing of asymptomatic persons for COVID-19 (outside of those recommended in the guidance from the Ministry of Health, or as directed by the public health unit for public health investigation). However, clinicians should continue to use their discretion to make decisions on which individuals to test.

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, please visit the Ministry of Health website, take their self-assessment and follow their guidance and instructions. If you are having difficulty breathing or experiencing other severe symptoms, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room immediately.

Adapting to Future Needs

We work with the Ministry of Health, Ontario Health and other key experts and stakeholders to monitor, provide guidance, and strategize to make sure COVID-19 testing in the province continues to respond to this evolving public health emergency. We explore new test methodologies, like serology, and continue to investigate and validate the use of different types of swabs, reagents, and testing platforms so that our approach can be flexible.

Event

PHO Grand Rounds: COVID-19 and Substance Use – Highlighting New Data and the Perspectives of People with Lived Experience

In this session, Regan Murray provides an overview of opioid-related deaths in Ontario during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Claire Rykelyk-Huizen and Michael Nurse  share findings from a consultation on the impacts of COVID-19 based on interviews with people who use substances, family and friends, harm reduction workers and people providing peer support services. 

See the Event Details
Updated 14 June 2020