Northern chambers still waiting for rapid COVID-19 tests
Finding a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 has proven to be extremely difficult, particularly if you live in northern Ontario.
One of the only ways to get the sought-after item has been through each area's chambers of commerce. As it stands now, the four largest chambers in the north are completely out.
"We had supplies right up until Christmas --they were going out the door faster than we could get them in," said Peter Chirico, president and CEO of the North Bay Chamber of Commerce.
"We've put out a little more than 23,000 tests to our community and our business partners within our community, both members and non-members alike."
Chirico said there was a substantial uptake in the last two weeks of December. The chamber has roughly 10,000 test kits back-ordered and he anticipates as soon as there is a supply, they'll be ordering 10,000 more.
"Certainly the retail businesses have been heavily up taking on these test kits," he said. "But also manufacturing, where you have large numbers but under 150 obviously, that's the market we're supplying to. But we're seeing everything from doctor's offices (to) dentist's offices."
The North Bay's chamber estimates there are 100-150 businesses on the waitlist for tests.
It's a similar story for the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, which has somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 testing kits on back-order.
"The program has been absolutely amazing," said president and CEO Debbi Nicholson. "It had a bit of a slow start back last summer, but certainly since last fall the uptick has been absolutely crazy and certainly in the last two months or so it's been non-stop."
Nicholson said demand has been so high that they've had to designate an employee who now solely deals with requests and tests coming into the office.
The Sudbury chamber estimates that since the program started, it has given out more than 114,000 tests to more than 1,000 local businesses.
They've had 55 new orders placed since Monday exceeding more than 4,000 test kits. Since they ran out, they've had requests for more than 60,000 test kits from 700 businesses.
The chamber has since made three orders to the province for more and anticipates it has somewhere between 70,000 to 80,000 kits on backorder.
"Businesses want to keep their employees and their clientele safe so they're having their employees do the rapid test kits before they come to work, especially if they are an essential business, then they want to try and keep their doors open," said Nicholson.
"We've been the only conduit really for business in the area, certainly for businesses that 150 or fewer employees. If the businesses have higher numbers, then they go directly through the province line. But it's been non-stop for us."
One of those businesses that will soon be looking for more tests is Mike Moore Construction out of Sault Ste. Marie.
Since the start of the pandemic, the company's been testing its 19 workers twice a week to keep both staff and clients healthy.
"We got on board right away with the program, thought it was an excellent program for businesses to have that extra edge in that fight against COVID-19," said safety officer J.R. Shuttleworth.
"So we started about early July when the program came into effect."
Shuttleworth said so far they've been lucky and haven't come across a positive test. But shortages of kits is going to force them to make alternate plans.
"It's going to put a real damper on our program," he said.
"We do have other screening tools available to us, so we're going to have to fall back on those, which is the questionnaire and temperature readings until hopefully we can get some more tests up here."
CTV News contacted the Ministry of Health for information on when more rapid antigen tests would be provided to northeastern Ontario. As it stands now, the area is not on the list for pop-up testing.
Sudbury MPP Jaime West said the city got a bunch of tests before Christmas, but they were snapped up quickly.
"I don't know how you can provide safety for a workplace, a family or a school without being able to check if you have a cold, a sniffle if you have COVID-19," said West.
He said the NDP is calling for free available rapid tests for everyone and that accessible free tests are key in helping to reduce the high COVID-19 case numbers.