Testing, Results and Reporting of COVID-19

Last update: December 2, 2022

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Clinicians play a vital role in helping patients navigate current testing resources, supporting patients after testing or providing testing in their own clinical setting as long as IPAC measures are followed.

Who to test?

Please see the COVID-19 Integrated testing & case, contact and outbreak management guidance (PDF) for testing guidance and eligibility criteria including that for specific settings and populations. In addition, clinicians can review current eligibility criteria for PCR testing.

COVID-19 can present with a variety of signs and symptoms and range in severity from asymptomatic to severe. Please continue to use your clinical judgement during patient assessment and test facilitation, considering local epidemiology and exposure risks. When transmission is high in the community, it is prudent to assume that any COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of severity or known exposure, are indicative of COVID-19. There are no validated clinical tools available to differentiate COVID-19 from other illnesses with similar symptoms. Please refer to the Ministry reference document for signs and symptoms (PDF) and the OPH symptoms and management page for further information.        

Patients can be directed to our public facing Testing page for information on when to seek testing, eligibility, as well as how to access testing in Ottawa.

Testing of Health Care Workers (HCW)

Please see the eligibility criteria for PCR testing, which includes guidance for certain Health Care Workers. While OPH will communicate information as it becomes available, please confirm testing and isolation expectations with your health care institution if applicable.

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Timing of testing

For those who are eligible for molecular COVID-19 testing, please test (or recommend testing to) symptomatic individuals as soon as possible and in accordance with current recommendations (PDF - 246 KB).

Individuals who are identified as high-risk contacts should only be tested if they are eligible. Please see the COVID-19 Integrated testing & case, contact and outbreak management guidance (PDF) for further details.

Regardless of symptoms and / or vaccination status, anyone who tests positive on a rapid antigen test is managed as a case of COVID-19 and must self-isolate in accordance with current recommendations (PDF). A confirmatory PCR test is not required per provincial guidance, though some higher-risk setting employers may request a confirmatory PCR test to inform return to work decisions. Please see Symptoms and Management page for more information.

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Testing for COVID-19 in Ottawa

The testing landscape has changed dramatically since the early days of the pandemic. There are now a variety of specimen collection methods and testing modalities being used in Ottawa. However, due to ongoing community transmission of COVID-19, there are many circumstances where testing is no longer necessary in order to take appropriate public health action. Testing eligibility is summarized on OPH’s Information for those who have symptoms, test positive for COVID-19 and high-risk contacts.

PCR Testing options in Ottawa

  • Take-Home Test Kits: do-it-yourself PCR test kits may be in a limited number of settings, such as participating pharmacies, or certain COVID-19 Assessment Centres. Availability may change as Provincial testing strategies and eligibility criteria evolve. PCR take-home test kits are no longer being provided through schools, though some families may still have kits at home that can be used if not expired. The kits include instructions to perform a buccal-oral-nasal swab which a child or adult can do themselves, or that can be done by a parent/guardian or caregiver.
  • COVID-19 Assessment Centres: These centres will perform PCR testing for those who are eligible. Some of these centres may also offer in-person clinical assessment of acute symptoms by a nurse or physician and treatment when indicated. Details on how to access a COVID-19 testing and assessment centre are available on our public facing testing page as well as on the website of the Ottawa Testing Taskforce.

Serology testing for COVID-19:

There are limited clinical settings in which serology testing may be appropriate, such as when assessing symptoms compatible with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). For additional information, please refer to: Public Health Ontario Coronavirus Disease 2019 – Serology.

Rapid testing options in Ottawa:

  • Rapid Antigen Point-of-Care Testing (RAT): Also referred to as rapid antigen screening, RAT can be used for several purposes described below. Given the current epidemiology of COVID-19, a positive RAT is highly indicative that the individual has COVID-19. Therefore, individuals with a positive result on RAT do not require a confirmatory PCR test in most settings and are managed as a case of COVID-19. These results are not reportable to public health.
    • Testing individuals with COVID-19 symptoms
      • Individuals with symptoms may undergo RAT if it is available to them.
      • A positive RAT is highly indicative that a symptomatic individual has COVID-19. They are managed as a case and are required to self-isolate.
      • A single negative RAT does not rule out COVID-19
        • Two consecutive negative RATs, separated by 24-48 hours, means COVID-19 infection is less likely. The individual should still self-isolate until they are afebrile and symptoms have improved for 24 hours (or 48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms). 
    • Screening individuals without COVID-19 symptoms
      • This type of screening is being used in some businesses, congregate settings and schools (PDF - 236 KB) across the city. There is a chance of false negative results which is why these tests are generally used within a program that includes frequent repeat testing and why these tests are insufficient to rule out COVID-19 with certainty in an individual without symptoms.
      • Follow these links for more information on the Provincial Antigen Screening Program
      • The following video was developed by the Ministry of Health to support individuals performing rapid antigen tests at home: How to use a COVID-19 antigen test at home - YouTube
    • For ‘Test-to-Work’ purposes
      • This is a less common usage of RAT which aims to support settings with critical workforce shortages by regularly testing staff who would otherwise be on home self-isolation. More information is available in the following provincial guidance.
    • Non-routine asymptomatic testing
      • Non-routine, or ‘one-off’, testing using a RAT should not be relied upon to enable social activities or to reduce public health measures, as there are important limitations of the tests. Further considerations for the use of RATs in this context are provided in current guidance (PDF).
    • RATs can be accessed by the general population at select retailers, regardless of their symptom or vaccination status. More information available, including locations of participating retailers

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Local resources for community physicians and NPs

Since the beginning of the pandemic, physicians and nurse practitioners have adapted their practices to best support their patients through changing guidelines and restrictions.

The following toolkit was prepared by a group of local health leaders representing Family Medicine, Community Pediatrics, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Kids Come First Health Team, COVID-19 testing, and Ontario Health to assist physicians and NPs who wish to see symptomatic patients in clinic and offer them testing. As well as testing, the Toolkit provides information on infection control, supplies, screening, and scheduling during the pandemic. COVID-19 Assessment and Testing Toolkit (Patients with FRI/ILI) (pdf – 687 KB)

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Testing for COVID-19 in your office

There are additional resources to support seeing symptomatic patients in clinic, including offering testing, on our IPAC page and from Public Health Ontario, Ontario Health and from the Ontario College of Family Physicians. COVID-19 testing should comply with provincial eligibility criteria in all settings.

Note that if you are collecting specimens that are part of a COVID-19 outbreak, please ensure that the outbreak number is included on the requisition, as per the PHO Respiratory Outbreak Testing Prioritization Protocol (PDF).

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Results 

It is the responsibility of the ordering physician or health care provider to communicate test results to their patients.

Patients can check their COVID-19 test result the following ways if they have a valid Ontario photo health card:

OPH will directly contact only those who have tested positive on a PCR COVID-19 test as part of OPH case and contact management activities.

For information on isolation and supports for people who are tested for COVID-19, please see our Symptoms and Management page.

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Reporting to Ottawa Public Health

COVID-19 cases (suspected or confirmed)

Given changes in the epidemiology of COVID-19 in our community, physicians and health care professionals are no longer being requested by OPH to report symptomatic patients suspected of having COVID-19 at this time. We have removed the Online COVID-19 Reporting Tool from our website. All COVID-19 positive PCR lab results are shared with OPH by our lab partners and followed up as appropriate. Note that Rapid Antigen Test results are not reportable. If you have any questions, please contact the Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 phone line at 613-580-6744.

COVID-19 Fatalities

With evolving testing strategies for COVID-19, hospitalization and death data are crucial to understanding the COVID-19 burden of disease. Deaths for which COVID-19 is an underlying or contributing cause are reportable to local Medical Officers of Health.

When reporting a COVID-19 death, please ensure the information provided to OPH matches information found on the Medical Certificate of Death. For details and examples regarding Medical Certificates of Death, please see the Technical Note from the World Health Organization. OPH recommends that physicians submit the Medical Certificate of Death when reporting a COVID-19 death however this is not a legal requirement. 

COVID-19 Fatalities can be reported to Ottawa Public Health by:

  1. Completing the Electronic Reporting Form.
  2. Downloading the appropriate Reporting Form and faxing a completed copy to 613-580-9640.
  3. Calling 613-580-2424 ext. 24224 and reporting the required information verbally.

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