People wait in line for hours at a COVID assessment centre at Mount Sinai Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Thursday, September 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province will transition to appointment-based testing at COVID-19 assessment centres starting this week.

The premier made the announcement during a news conference on Friday, saying that the transition will start on Tuesday in an effort to reduce the testing lineups and cut down on the processing backlog.

“Starting Oct. 4, assessment centres will not be accepting walk-ins … These changes are absolutely necessary,” Ford told reporters.

“Being able to make an appointment, it gives certainty. It will make sure folks don’t have to wait outside for hours. It will help us ensure that necessary screening takes place to ensure those who need a test can get a test.”

Ford asked for patience from Ontario residents as the province works to make the transition.

“It might take a few days to schedule your tests at the start, but we are working around the clock to keep those times as low as possible,” he said.

Starting Tuesday, patients with COVID-19 symptoms would have to call one of the province’s 153 assessment centres and speak to a nurse practitioner before making an appointment for a swab.

The province said the changes would better prepare the assessment centres for the winter months and would eliminate any frustration from low-risk residents who have been denied a test.

With Ontario's COVID-19 processing backlog hitting an all-time high of 90,513 on Friday, the province is also trying to reduce the length of time people have to wait before receiving their results.

The province said that it will also increase “testing and processing capacity to 50,000 tests per day by mid-October and 68,000 tests per day by mid-November.”

While the new measures would be applied province-wide, a number of assessment centres are already appointment-only.

In Toronto, at least 23 per cent of assessment centres operate on an appointment basis, while all 43 testing centres in northern Ontario are currently appointment-only.

Here's a breakdown of current appointment-only assessment centres by region:

  • Central Ontario: 21 (38 per cent of total testing sites)
  • Toronto: 13 (23 per cent of total testing sites)
  • Eastern Ontario: 41 (71 per cent of total testing sites)
  • Western Ontario: 35 (63 per cent of total testing sites)
  • Northern Ontario: 43 (100 per cent of total testing sites)

Pharmacies, which are currently open for asymptomatic testing for priority groups, also operate on an appointment-only basis. The province said it plans to expand the number of pharmacies where people can get tested.