Ontario expands eligibility for COVID-19 testing to include pregnant people, first responders and unvaccinated seniors

The province of Ontario widened access to free PCR COVID-19 testing last week, making eligible pregnant people, select unvaccinated adults over the age of 70, and first responders.

The new guidance from the Ministry of Health published on Jan. 13 states that for the first time in two weeks, all of the above groups as well as household contacts of essential health care and congregate care workers can now get a free PCR test if they show symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The new guidance says that in order to be eligible for free PCR testing, adults age 70+ (or 60+ for Indigenous adults and those with “additional” risk factors), they must also be considered for some form of outpatient treatment for COVID-19, such as Budesonside, Fluvoxamine, or soon, Paxlovid.

On Dec. 30, 2021, testing was limited to the hospitalized, health care and congregate care workers, homeless people, Indigenous Ontario residents, those identified in outbreak investigations and public school students in very select circumstances.

Officials at the time said the narrowing of access was needed after the testing network became overwhelmed due to the Omicron variant, with a backlog of more than 100,000 specimens awaiting processing around the New Year.

Since then, testing volumes have fallen considerably.

On Monday, the province reported processing just 38,700 tests, down from 40,000-60,000 through the previous week.

Prior to Dec. 30, 2021, PCR testing was available for free for virtually anyone in the province who showed symptoms or had contact with a previously identified case.