Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A man brings in supplies to a seniors residence, on April 27, 2020, in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Delays plaguing Canada’s COVID-19 testing programs are preventing nursing homes from quickly identifying infected residents and staff, and controlling the spread of infections, just as a growing number of facilities are declaring outbreaks.

The problem is most acute in Canada’s two most populous provinces. The number of long-term care homes with outbreaks in Ontario has quadrupled to 86 over the past month and 58 residents have died. In Quebec, 39 homes have outbreaks. The virus has sickened just over one-third of the residents at CSSS Du Granit in Lac-Mégantic, the province’s hardest-hit home.

COVID-19 is rapidly spreading beyond the country’s hot spots to other provinces. In Alberta, 13 homes have outbreaks. At one home – Millwoods Shepherd’s Care Centre in Edmonton – eight of the 61 residents who have tested positive have died.

Story continues below advertisement

Seven nursing homes in Manitoba are dealing with outbreaks. Four residents at Parkview Place in Winnipeg have died in little more than a week and another 73 residents have tested positive. Two deaths were linked on Monday to Heritage Lodge, also in Winnipeg.

How many coronavirus cases are there in Canada, by province, and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

Toronto reveals rates of positive COVID-19 tests by neighbourhood

Trump calls Dr. Fauci a ‘disaster’ during conference call with campaign workers

Health care experts say fast turnaround of test results is crucial to preventing and managing outbreaks in long-term care homes and other congregate settings where the elderly are most vulnerable to the virus.

Multiple health regions across the country are missing target turnaround times for test results.

Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Brent Roussin told reporters on Monday the province tries to prioritize testing for health care workers and institutional outbreaks. He could not say how long nursing homes wait for results, but said the median turnaround time for COVID-19 tests in the province is 60 hours.

In Ontario, where labs are turning around an average of 46.1 per cent of tests within two days – well short of their goal of 80 per cent of tests within that time frame – some nursing homes are facing lengthy waits for results.

With each passing day, homes lose an opportunity to isolate positive staff or residents before they pass the virus on to others, hindering their ability to control an outbreak, said Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health Unit.

“Everything hinges on good rapid access to testing and quick turnaround times for decision making in these high-risk facilities,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

The health unit for the Kingston region requires labs to expedite testing for staff and residents in long-term care and retirement homes with an outbreak. After the Fairmont long-term care home declared an outbreak on Oct. 8, Dr. Moore said he knew within 24 hours that no one except one staff member had tested positive and that the virus had not spread further.

Other regions, however, are experiencing lengthy delays in getting test results.

Simcoe Manor Home for the Aged, a 126-bed municipally owned facility in the rural community of Beeton northwest of Toronto, is dealing with a massive outbreak. Seven residents have died and another 40 have tested positive, said Jane Sinclair, general manager of health and emergency services for the County of Simcoe.

The fact that the home is reporting new cases every day is because of delays in getting test results, not an indication that the virus is spreading, Ms. Sinclair said. A majority of the positive cases, including 28 staff members who are sick with the virus, date back to when everyone was tested at the beginning of the outbreak on Oct. 2.

“We’ve had test results trickle in every day, and we report them as we receive them,” she said.

Ms. Sinclair and others in the sector have called on the government to make testing a priority in congregate settings. “It’s very important whenever there is an outbreak for us to have the ability to know very quickly who might have been exposed and who might actually have contracted the COVID-19 virus,” said Lawrence Loh, Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region.

Story continues below advertisement

Extendicare, a for-profit chain operator that owns 34 homes in Ontario, says the turnaround time for test results ideally should be within 24 hours.

Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton abruptly walked out of a news conference on Monday, after refusing to take a question from a reporter from QP Briefing, a publication that covers Queen’s Park. Both her office and that of Health Minister Christine Elliott referred questions on testing to Ontario Health, the agency that oversees the delivery of health care.

“Ontario Health is working with its partners on a process to prioritize tests for any congregate settings in outbreak,” agency spokeswoman Jennifer Schipper said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. The agency is also working with the Ministry of Health to expand capacity in the province’s laboratory network, she said.

In Alberta, tests from long-term care homes experiencing outbreaks are prioritized, with the goal of turning them around within 24 hours, according to Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.

Extendicare says it has avoided more than 20 outbreaks by isolating staff who test positive with COVID-19 before they pass on the virus to residents. “However, our efforts are rendered completely ineffective if we don’t get timely results for those tests,” the company said in an e-mail.

All but one of Extendicare’s five homes in Ottawa have an outbreak. The Ottawa Hospital is temporarily managing West End Villa, where 19 residents have died over the past month. The hospital is now processing COVID-19 tests for residents and staff at West End Villa, Extendicare said. As a result, it said, turnaround time has significantly improved.

Story continues below advertisement

Katerina Cizek finally learned Monday afternoon, after waiting all weekend, that her 82-year-old father does not have the virus. Jiri Cizek lives at Lakeview Long Term Care Centre, a 128-bed nursing home in Toronto owned by University Health Network (UHN) that declared an outbreak on Oct. 3.

“My dad is currently imprisoned in his room, because his neighbour directly across the hall has symptoms,” Ms. Cizek said on Sunday.

As of Monday, 14 residents, seven staff members and two essential care providers have tested positive, said Gillian Howard, a spokeswoman for the UHN network of hospitals.

All test samples for Lakeside are being processed as “outbreak priority," Ms. Howard said, but one batch was delayed because it was left at the wrong address on Friday evening.

“With the exception of the wrongly routed batch, Lakeside outbreak samples have been completed within 12 hours, 90 per cent of the time,” she said.

With reports from Tu Thanh Ha and Laura Stone

Story continues below advertisement

Children in Ontario’s four COVID-19 hot spots should not go trick-or-treating this Halloween says Premier Doug Ford, stressing that people’s willingness to follow the recommendation could impact the holiday season. Ford says that he is acting on the advice of the province’s top doctor as cases continue to grow in Toronto, Ottawa, Peel Region and York Region. The Canadian Press

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies