On a per-capita basis, Ontario is testing at a lower rate than several other provinces. The province can process about 14,000 samples a day, and on Fr…

Amid mounting pressure to quickly ramp up COVID-19 testing in Ontario, the province on Saturday reported another day-over-day decline in the number of patients tested for the disease.
In its latest report on COVID-19 case numbers, the province reported its testing labs had completed tests for 3,648 patients the day prior, the Good Friday holiday. That total was the second straight day with a slight decline, as testing has remained flat overall in the province since Premier Doug Ford earlier this week said his “patience has worn thin” with the low test rate, calling the failure to take advantage of the province’s full testing capacity “absolutely unacceptable.”
Ontario labs can process about 14,000 samples a day, and on Friday the province pledged to ramp up testing to 16,000 a day by May 6. Health experts have been calling for the province to not waste that capacity and to test more broadly to get a better picture of how the epidemic is spreading in Ontario, particularly in vulnerable settings such as hospitals, long-term care homes, jails and homeless shelters.
Although fewer patients have been tested than needed over the last week, people across the province are working hard to increase these numbers, said Dr. Vanessa Allen, chief of medical microbiology with Public Health Ontario. “We need to be fast, and we need to be deliberate,” she said, cautioning that there’s still a “push and pull” to make sure the people who need to be prioritized for testing can get their results quickly.
The 14,000-test capacity is small enough that the labs could once again be overwhelmed if too many samples come in from low-priority cases, she said. She pointed to the several-thousand-test backlog that built up in Ontario throughout March and led to multi-day wait times, even in high-priority cases. “I found that completely unacceptable,” she said.
Still, she said, in recent days more people are going into places like long-term care homes to get samples, and plans are being made to use that capacity. “We need to maximize the resources we have to do this response,” she said.
The Ontario labs have tested samples for more than 6,000 patients a day as recently as April 1.
Ford has said the testing push will focus on high-risk groups like health care workers, care home residents and emergency responders.
Meanwhile, those tests that were completed in the province’s latest data found 411 new cases of COVID-19, at a positive rate of 11.3 per cent. Ontario’s overall positive rate has been rising in recent weeks, a sign that could indicate growing infection levels or insufficient testing. Overall, the province has tested nearly 98,000 people, among whom it has found a positive test at a rate of 6.9 per cent. That rate has risen to 10.5 per cent for tests completed since April 1.
On a per-capita basis, Ontario is testing at a lower rate than several other provinces. The World Health Organization says a positive rate of 10 per cent is a “general benchmark” of a system that is catching most COVID-19 cases, but sampling more people will give a better picture of the epidemic.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Ontario’s regional public health units had reported 7,596 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, including 288 deaths, increases of 509 cases, or 7.2 per cent, and 19 deaths since the same time Friday.
Saturday saw a sharp increase in deaths reported in the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, which covers a largely rural area southwest of Ottawa. That region is home to the Almonte Country Haven care home, which has seen one of the worst of several deadly long-term care home outbreaks across the province. Earlier this week, health authorities reported 10 residents of the home had died.
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As of Saturday, the health unit now reports 15 deaths in the region, although it was not immediately clear what was behind the jump.
According to the province, 691 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 257 in an intensive care unit. That number has fallen slightly in recent days, a trend that experts say may suggest social distancing measures are having a positive effect. The province also says 2,858 patients have now recovered after testing positive for COVID-19
The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of deaths — 253 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in its reporting system.
The Star’s count is based on the public tallies and statements of the regional health units. It includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.