COVID-19 testing for individuals with no COVID symptoms is now available at some pharmacies in Ontario and Alberta.

Professor Kelly Grindrod and Professor Nancy Waite are pharmacists and professors at the School of Pharmacy. Their research examines the role of pharmacists in the health-care system. They have been working with the Canadian Pharmacists Association on a national framework for the role of pharmacists in public health, and on issues around PPE, influenza vaccination and COVID testing in pharmacies. 

Who can get a COVID-19 test at a pharmacy?

Testing at pharmacy is available by appointment to people who are not showing any COVID-19 symptoms. If you do not have any symptoms, you may be eligible for a test if you meet any of the criteria established by the provincial government. These criteria were generated based on current public health guidelines and as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the criteria may change.

Call the pharmacy before you go to be screened and book an appointment. The government maintains a website that lists current assessment centers and pharmacies where testing is available.

Why were pharmacies chosen to administer asymptomatic COVID-19 testing?

The current surge in COVID cases and school requirements for testing children with symptoms created backlogs and long wait times for testing throughout the province. As one of the most accessible health-care professionals, community pharmacists were designated essential workers throughout the pandemic and, as a result, community pharmacies remained open while many other health-care offices were closed or operated virtually. 

Their easy proximity to most Ontarians, and extended hours, including evenings and weekends, make them a convenient and trusted site for COVID testing. Pharmacies have been conducting asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in Alberta since June, and have contributed to increasing the province’s testing capacity 

Are pharmacists qualified to conduct COVID-19 testing?

All pharmacists who are conducting COVID testing are trained in proper procedure, PPE and patient assessment.  In Ontario, pharmacists already perform a number of public health services such as administering vaccinations. Some have additional training in administering point-of-care tests for various conditions. Pharmacists are qualified to perform the throat or nasal swab required for COVID-19 testing.

Additionally, pharmacies that offer testing are developing robust safety plans to ensure they minimize the risk of transmission for pharmacy staff and customers, and documentation of training protocols is coordinated with the Ministry of Health, pharmacy associations and companies or owners who manage the pharmacies.

How does testing in a pharmacy differ from testing in an assessment centre?

In addition to the different criteria for being tested at an assessment centre, the test administered at pharmacies will be different from those offered at the public health assessment centres.

The test at assessment centres involves the nasopharyngeal swab that goes quite deep up the nose and is used for diagnostic purposes. Pharmacies will be conducting a nasal or throat swab which is less uncomfortable and is intended for screening purposes.

The University of Waterloo has a number of experts available for comment on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here to see the up-to-date list.

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