WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit says wait times are increasing for COVID-19 test results in the region.

Health unit CEO Theresa Marentette says the daily seven-day average is about 700 tests a day. She says the wait time to get results back has increased slightly over the past week.

“Using this seven day average, approximately about 25 per cent of the test results are available in one day and two-day turnaround is about 81 per cent. In the past week we have seen results taking a bit longer,” says Marentette.

Marentette says the delay could be due to the fact that Windsor does not have a lab to process the tests and they must be sent to London.

“The tests being done in our area are going to the London lab. The London lab is taking tests and swabs from all different health units in our southwest region,” she says.

She adds if the London lab is backed up, then tests move on to Toronto and elsewhere.

“There’s a little bit of lag,” says Marentette. “In some cases it has delayed our initial investigation, but anyone with symptoms or being told, or if they go online and see that the result before we get it, they should remain in isolation and we will reach them.”

Although the new case count in Windsor remains low, other parts of southwestern Ontario have seen spikes in recent weeks, leading to an increase in demand for tests.

New testing guidelines

Ontario is now discouraging asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to help reduce the lineups and backlogs.

On Wednesday, 48,000 test specimens were awaiting processing across the province, far exceeding the known maximum daily processing capacity of about 40,000.

“We really need to focus on the most urgent cases first, make those a priority and reduce the pressures on our labs to get those results quickly to those individuals,” said Steve Erwin, director of communications at Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH).

Ontario’s Associate Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffee, says the testing focus needs to shift in order to identify and control COVID-19 cases.

“We know that over the summer when we opened up testing to anybody who wanted it, we did not find cases so, right now we need to focus on people who are symptomatic, people who are contacts, people in outbreaks or in very specific populations, where we have designated testing, needs to occur,” said Yaffee at a news conference on Thursday.

While hours-long line-ups have been the norm in places like Ottawa and Toronto, assessment centres at the WRH Ouellette Campus and St. Clair College Sportsplex in Windsor as well as the assessment centre at Erie Shores Healthcare in Leamington have provided enough capacity to handle the numbers of people looking for a COVID-19 testing thus far.

However, Erwin notes the new guidelines will help curb a potential surge in demand for tests as much of the province appears to be in the early stages of a second wave of cases.

“I don’t think people can be complacent in Windsor-Essex despite the calmer period we may be having versus other communities in the province,” said Erwin. “We could very easily see a surge and we know that if the numbers are growing in Toronto, and Peel, and Ottawa, and elsewhere — it’s only a matter of time before that starts to impact the rest of the province.”

The new guidelines will allow those who are symptomatic, are close contacts of confirmed cases, are part of an outbreak and are part of a specific population identified by health officials to get tested.   

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to turn away people tomorrow,” said Erwin. “It does mean that we want people to spread the word that if you’re going to come for a test at the assessment centre, you need to meet those criteria.”

Erwin adds the second assessment centre at St. Clair College was opened when the Ouellette campus assessment centre was seeing a peak attendance of 400 tests a day during the summer.

Another assessment centre may open at the Metropolitan campus of WRH in October which may see the testing centre at the college close, depending on demand.

Health Minister Christine Elliott has said the province will reach the ability to process 50,000 specimens per day sometime this month.

With files from CP24’s Chris Herhalt.