Starting today, free rapid antigen tests (RATs) are being handed out at select grocery stores and pharmacies.
The province is now offering the COVID-19 tests at more than 2,300 grocery stores and pharmacies.
With the provincial PCR testing limits being overwhelmed with the Omicron wave of the pandemic, access to the tests that confirm a diagnosis through lab testing has been limited to vulnerable populations and the highest-risk settings.
Up to 5.5 million RATs (1.1 million boxes) will be supplied to the participating sites weekly, according to the announcement. One box has five tests and each household is eligible for one box per visit. The province says the program will last at least eight weeks.
“As we continue to carefully ease public health measures, rapid tests are providing another layer of protection and offer the public an additional tool to confidently do the things they love, like visiting family or dining at their favourite local restaurant,” said Elliott in a news release.
A list of where the tests are available can be found here.
Most of the tests will be available for in-store pick-up.
At Longo's, the RATs will be included in online grocery delivery then shift to in-store pickup. Walmart will only offer online grocery pickup with no in-store pick-up. People should check with participating locations to confirm how the tests will be available.
Tests will also be available for vulnerable communities through 17 high-priority community lead agencies and four community-based partners in the north. This will be done through partnerships with health centres, places of worship or food banks for distribution.
The neighbourhoods and northern communities deemed high priority are: Black Creek, Bramalea, Brampton, central Ottawa, Durham west, east Mississauga, Malton, Markham, north Etobicoke, northwest Mississauga, Peel Region, Scarborough north and south, southwest Mississauga, Thorncliffe Park, Vaughan, Windso and Essex County, Thunder Bay, Kenora, Fort Frances and Kirkland Lake.
“Providing expanded access to testing for Ontarians will support the province’s cautious approach to easing public health measures,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health in the news release.
“While testing is a critical component in our response to COVID-19, vaccination remains the best defence against the virus and its variants. Over the next few months, we need to continue following the public health measures that remain in place and vaccinate those who have yet to receive their doses to protect our communities and health care system capacity.”
These RATs announced today are in addition to the tests already being provided to schools and childcare settings. The province says it's also restarted providing RATs to organizations and businesses for sectors that require the tests as part of a provincial vaccination policy.
Rapid antigen tests are recommended for people with symptoms, people without symptoms to use as screening and for "test-to-work" for workers in the highest risk settings. A positive test does not require a PCR or molecular test to confirm the diagnosis.
The province's full guidance on how RATs should be used is available here.