Testing, Results and Reporting of COVID-19

⚠ As COVID-19 cases and contacts continue to climb in Ontario and here in Ottawa, we expect that the Ministry of Health approach to COVID-19 testing will change with new prioritization criteria that will focus on vulnerable populations and essential workers. In the interim, Ottawa Public Health advises in the event that you are unable to access timely PCR testing and regardless of your vaccination status, you must self-isolate if: 

  • you or anyone in your household has tested positive on a rapid antigen test 
  • you are a household member of someone who has tested positive on a PCR test 
  • you or anyone in your household are experiencing any of the most common symptoms of COVID- 19 
    • Fever (Temperature of 37.8 C or greater) and/or chills
    • Cough (new or worsening)
    • Shortness of breath
    • Decrease or loss of taste or smell
    • Extreme tiredness, lack of energy, feeling of being unwell (not related to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in the past 48 hours)
    • Muscle aches and pains (not related to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in the past 48 hours)
    • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea

Please be aware that COVID-19, in particular Omicron, often presents with minor symptoms (cough, fatigue, and/or congestion or runny nose) or causes no symptoms at all.

Last update: December 23, 2021

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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?

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. There are no validated clinical tools available to differentiate COVID-19 from other illnesses with similar symptoms. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) supports a low index of suspicion to test for COVID-19. Please refer to Ministry reference document for signs and symptoms (PDF) and the OPH symptoms and management page for further information.

OPH guidance on who should seek testing for COVID-19 (PDF - 867) does not differ from the provincial testing guidance. Please see the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance Update (PDF) for recommendations on testing criteria including in specific settings.

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

  • If the clinician would like to further discuss the role for testing, the PHO Microbiologists on-call are available and can be contacted through the PHO Laboratory's Customer Service Centre at 416-235-6556 / 1-877-604-4567 or the After-Hours Emergency Duty Officer at 416-605-3113.

Testing of Health Care Workers (HCW)

Due to the surge in demand for testing, COVID-19 testing is no longer available for everyone in a timely manner. The health care system and testing task force are aware of the need for expedited testing for HCW and are working on a process to facilitate this. OPH will communicate more 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

Please test (or recommend testing) individuals with symptoms compatible with COVID-19 as soon as possible if PCR testing is available.

Asymptomatic individuals who are identified as high-risk contacts (e.g. children in the same class as a lab confirmed case) are generally advised by OPH to go for testing no earlier than seven days after last close contact with the case. Please see the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance Update (PDF).

Note: As access to PCR testing is currently limited, anyone who tests positive on a rapid antigen test or who has symptoms of COVID-19 should be considered to have COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 10 days from symptom onset or positive test date (if asymptomatic) regardless of their vaccination status. A confirmatory PCR test is not required while access to PCR testing remains limited. Please see Symptoms and Management page for more information.

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Testing for COVID-19 in Ottawa

The testing landscape had 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. It is important to remember that patients who are symptomatic or high-risk contacts of a known case need to undergo diagnostic testing using PCR if available, in order to confirm a diagnosis of COVID-19. There are screening tests being used with antigen testing technology in select settings, but these are insufficient for ruling out a diagnosis of COVID-19.

Diagnostic PCR Testing options in Ottawa

  • Take-Home Test Kits: These do-it-yourself PCR test kits are currently being provided within schools across Ottawa, as well as by appointment at the Brewer Park Arena CHEO COVID-19 Assessment Centre for children 2 months of age and older. Other settings, including primary care offices, may be offering these kits in the future. 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 see symptomatic patients or asymptomatic high risk contacts for PCR testing. Some of these centres may also offer in-person clinical assessment of acute symptoms by a nurse or physician. Details on how to access an 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.

Screening testing options in Ottawa (not diagnostic):

  • Rapid Antigen Point-of-Care Testing (RAT): Also referred to as rapid antigen screening, RAT is used for asymptomatic screening purposes, not for diagnostic purposes.
    • This type of screening is being used in some businesses, congregate settings and schools (PDF - 236 KB) across the city and is becoming more accessible to the general public through the Provincial Pop-up Holiday Testing program. Results take 15-20 minutes. Due to the possibility of false positive results, a positive test must be confirmed with a PCR test. If PCR testing is unavailable, the individual must continue to self-isolate for 10 days from the date of their positive test result. There is also 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 in an individual with symptoms.
    • Follow these links for more information on the Provincial Antigen Screening Program and Ministry of Health Guidance on Considerations for Point-of-Care testing (PDF).
    • 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

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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 Ontario College of Family Physicians.

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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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 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

Given the high volume and widespread infections of COVID-19 in our community, physicians and health care professionals are no longer required to notify OPH of symptomatic patients suspected of having COVID-19 at this time. We have removed the Online COVID-19 Reporting Tool from our website. All COVID positive PCR lab results for are shared with OPH by our lab partners and followed up as appropriate. Note that Rapid Antigen Test results are not reportable, but a positive Rapid Antigen Test should prompt confirmatory PCR testing if available. If you have any questions, please contact the Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 phone line at 613-580-6744.

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