As of March 5, 2021, changes to Ministry of Health guidance allow for trained individuals to perform point-of-care antigen testing, in accordance with the product manufacturer’s label. Supervised self-swabbing for point-of-care antigen testing is now also permitted.
These efforts by Ontario government are driven towards making it easier for businesses to test for COVID-19 in the workplace by providing guidance to employees who want to self-swab for a rapid antigen point-of-care test on a voluntary basis under the supervision of a trained individual.
An antigen technology-based COVID-19 test that is authorized by Health Canada for point-of-care use can be performed at workplaces by trained individuals and does not require shipping a specimen to a lab for processing. Frequent screening with rapid antigen tests increases the chances of early identification of cases in otherwise asymptomatic individuals. Individuals who test positive through rapid antigen tests still need to take a confirmatory lab-based PCR test at an assessment centre or participating community lab.
Initially launched in November 2020 as a pilot, the Provincial Antigen Screening Program deployed rapid antigen point-of-care tests to essential workplaces and sectors in order to quickly identify and help stop the spread of COVID-19. Ontario has since expanded the Program to provincial scale, including but not limited to long-term care and retirement homes, congregate care settings such as adult correctional facilities, and essential industries such as food processing, manufacturing, construction sites and to support asymptomatic testing of staff and students in schools across the province to support safe reopening.
Ontario has also released guidance for individuals or organizations that choose to participate in COVID-19 testing that falls outside of the public health care system, to ensure there is appropriate oversight and consumer protection and that public resources are supporting public health initiatives.
Rapid antigen testing can provide an additional layer of safety in workplaces and provide reassurance to employers and employees alike. By clinically endorsing supervised, voluntary self-swabbing for asymptomatic individuals, Ontario is helping businesses reduce the administrative costs of using antigen tests by allowing staff to consider the option of taking their own swabs under the supervision of a trained individual.
The province has also removed regulatory barriers governing the use of COVID-19 tests that are approved by Health Canada for point-of-care use to make it easier for organizations to offer onsite testing and support a safe return to work.
Although point-of-care rapid test devices currently deployed in Ontario are easy to use, their safe and appropriate usage is supported through additional clinical and public health protocols outlined in the updated provincial testing guidance and training materials and webinars that are freely available here: COVID-19 Health System Response Materials
“Our government is committed to providing greater flexibility and innovative testing options for additional sectors to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “By providing guidance for voluntary, supervised self-swabbing, frontline and essential workers can have quicker and easier access to testing and have an additional layer of protection. Until vaccines are widely available, I strongly urge everybody to continue following public health measures.”
Next Steps for You
Organizations that choose to conduct private testing as part of their operations must refer to this guide outlined by the Ontario government before making a decision. The guide has been developed to outline the minimum considerations and requirements for such initiatives.
Please know that the guide provides basic information only. It is not intended to take the place of medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or legal advice. Further, organizations that initiate private COVID-19 testing campaigns assume any operational, medical, and/or legal responsibilities relating to this initiative. In the event of any conflict between this guidance document and any applicable legislation or orders or directives issued by the Minister of Health or the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), the legislation, order or directive prevails. Please see Ontario’s COVID-19 website for more general information as well as for updates to this document.
Organizational Responsibilities Relating to Private COVID-19 Testing
Organizations that are interested in pursuing private testing are also responsible for: