Man holding a box of Antigen rapid test for COVID-19. Photo: Ivan Radic
Man holding a box of Antigen rapid test for COVID-19. Credit: Ivan Radic

Yesterday, a GO-VAXX bus sat in the parking lot of Dundurn Castle. It was there to provide free rapid tests for Hamilton’s 800,000 residents as well as to perform testing on individuals. They opened at 9 a.m. and were to be there until 4:30 p.m. or until all of the rapid tests were handed out – whichever came first.

All 300 hundred tests were gone in minutes. Before noon, workers had run out of numbers to distribute for the on-site testing. Despite that, people kept coming because there was no way to check in with the site and no signs posted at the entrance or street indicating all the tests were gone.  

 The federal government gave every province boxed testing kits with five tests per kit in numbers proportionate to their population to distribute free of charge. According to Health Canada, Ontario received 31.8 million rapid tests from the federal government as of Dec. 3, with fewer than one third of those tests reported as used.

However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that the majority of tests Ford claims were made available went to businesses who met qualifications and private schools – also businesses – for free. The rest of us paid $40 a pop if we wanted, or needed, a test.

Ford recently announced that students in the public and Catholic school boards will receive five free rapid tests to take home and use over the holidays and has started pop-up distribution sites that are revealed daily — although this weekend went up today with nine sites for the entire province over three days. A list of LCBO outlets is also available on the same site.

While Ford continues to claim that every single rapid test the province has received is on its way out the door, Ontarians need to make sure they know where the tests are going and that they are actually getting into the hands of those who need them the most. And, that they are free of charge.

Rapid tests screen for potential COVID-19 infections in asymptomatic individuals. They can also detect when an infected person is contagious. They provide results within 15 minutes and should be used just before attending a gathering. This is important given the increase of the Omicron variant which has a transmission rate four to eight times higher than the Delta variant.

For people already exhibiting symptoms, or who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, it’s best to quarantine and get a PCR test that takes up to 48 for results.

Looking at the line of people sitting on their walkers and standing in the rain waiting for COVID testing, one has to wonder what organizers were thinking. Dundurn Castle, located at 610 York Boulevard, is on a main street with a bus stop in front and a large parking lot. But it is neither a central location nor the most convenient location for elderly or variously abled people to get to especially without a car.

People were not sufficiently distancing in the lineup for testing and workers trying to help attendees lacked visible identification so those looking for information about the long-gone free test kits were left wandering around looking for help after mistakenly joining the long lineup.

Ford has announced that free tests will also be available online, by appointment at pharmacies and at select LCBO’s. Again, this assumes that everyone has access to a computer or data on their phone. All of this reflects a provincial government that is ageist, abelist, classist and doing absolutely the bare minimum to appear to help the people in Ontario stay safe and effectively reign in COVID.

Time to make tests and KN-95 masks available to the masses for free at convenient locations like local libraries, outside shopping malls, at transit hubs, outside pharmacies without an appointment, grocery stores and food banks. Meet the people where they live, work and travel.

Editor’s note, Dec. 20, 2021: Previously, this article stated the Doug Ford government had received 5.4 million tests from the federal government; in fact, it has received 31 million. The story has been updated.