Canada doesn’t have enough COVID-19 testing capacity, and might never get it

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Update: An April 17, 2020 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Toronto Public Health struggling to keep up with contact tracing, doctors say.”

An excerpt reads:

Public health staff in Canada’s largest city are struggling to keep up with the vital work known as contact tracing, or alerting those associated with people who test positive for COVID-19 in a bid to curb its spread, some Toronto doctors say.

Doctors say that individuals who test positive can wait for days without a follow-up call from Toronto Public Health’s contact tracers, who perform the detective-like task of tracking a patient’s steps. In some cases, this means that friends or co-workers of a positive case are not being promptly instructed to self-isolate for the mandated 14 days.

[End of update]

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Some previous posts are entitled:

COVID-19 testing is an absolute priority – including of asymptomatic individuals; not much testing is happening in Ontario right now

Lessons learned from Italy’s COVID-19 response are highly relevant, as these articles note; as well, Harvard epidemiologist suggests some nursing home residents be moved out

Battle is breaking out in southwestern Ontario between three long-term care facilities and local public health, with health officials refusing to test elderly asymptomatic patients for COVID-19

South Korea and Germany are doing extensive COVID-19 testing; Province of Ontario has not been doing much testing at all

April 9, 2020 CBC article notes Canada doesn’t have enough testing capacity and might never get it

An April 9, 2020 CBC article is entitled: “Why isn’t Canada testing everyone for coronavirus? The country doesn’t have enough testing capacity, and might never get it.”

The article presents a wider perspective, regarding the testing situation in Ontario and elsewhere.

In general we can say that by now, each country has established a trajectory with regard to how seriously the pandemic will affect them.

As a resident of Southwestern Ontario, my sense is that for most of us the one thing we have control over is our diligence in physical distancing.

An excerpt from the April 9, 2020 CBC article reads:

Why is testing such a big problem?

The simple answer — the COVID-19 tsunami caught almost everybody off guard.

“Everybody in the world is ramping up for the same tests and they’re all vying for the same reagents,” said Allen, referring to the chemicals necessary for tests. “This is not an Ontario issue, this is an international issue.”

“The demand for this test is completely unparalleled.”

April 9, 2020 Globe and Mail article highlights 2006 federal report on pandemic preparedness

An April 9, 2020 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Ottawa had a playbook for a coronavirus-like pandemic 14 years ago. What went wrong?”

An excerpt reads:

Given the threat of multiple waves, the document called for the Canadian government to stockpile everything from ventilators to N95 respirator masks, gowns, gloves and face shields. “There will be shortages of the materials and supplies needed during the pandemic period,” the officials concluded. Therefore “a consistent 16-week supply (i.e. two pandemic waves)” was the minimum needed.

It added: “The government does not have control over when this will occur.”

As hospital workers have learned in recent weeks, those key warnings were never heeded. As SARS faded into history, so too did the anxiety over a deadly outbreak.

But the dire shortages at hospitals during this pandemic – ranging from basic items such as masks to testing equipment and ventilators – has shaken the medical system. Dr. Gill works at hospitals in Brampton and Milton, which she said are straining to the breaking point in normal times. She said her colleagues are now scared, and many don’t believe the government’s figures on the number of people infected, partly because the ability of COVID-19 to be transmitted without symptoms has been so underestimated, contrary to what the 2006 report warned against.

“They are only testing symptomatic people – and it’s asymptomatic people who can be the vectors. The health-care professionals could be those people, in any health-care setting,” Dr. Gill said.

She attributed the lack of widespread, uniform testing and shortages of protective equipment to a failure by Ottawa to act quickly and decisively when it first learned of the virus.

“There should have been a cohesive response,” Dr. Gill said, speaking on behalf of doctors in her organization who are disappointed in how the virus was handled early on. “We had many, many weeks that the government squandered.”

April 9, 2020 Reuters article shares details about Germany’s approach to virus defences

An April 9, 2020 Reuters article is entitled: “Pass the salt: The minute details that helped Germany build virus defences.”

An excerpt reads:

The time Germany bought may have saved lives, scientists say. Its first outbreak of locally transmitted COVID-19 began earlier than Italy’s, but Germany has had many fewer deaths. Italy’s first detected local transmission was on Feb. 21. By then Germany had kicked off a health ministry information campaign and a government strategy to tackle the virus which would hinge on widespread testing. In Germany so far, more than 2,100 people have died of COVID-19. In Italy, with a smaller population, the total exceeds 17,600.

April 9, 2020 New York Times article speaks to a wider context

An April 9, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “In Scramble for Coronavirus Supplies, Rich Countries Push Poor Aside: Developing nations in Latin America and Africa cannot find enough materials and equipment to test for coronavirus, partly because the United States and Europe are outspending them.”

An excerpt reads:

So far, the developing world has reported far fewer cases and deaths from the coronavirus, but many experts fear that the pandemic could be especially devastating for the poorest countries.

Testing is the first defense against the virus and an important tool to stop so many patients from ending up hospitalized. Most manufacturers want to help, but the niche industry that produces the testing equipment and chemical reagents necessary to process lab tests is dealing with huge global demand.

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