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People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility, in Toronto, on Sept. 18, 2020.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Ontario is sending some COVID-19 tests to the United States for processing as it works to clear a backlog that last week jumped to over 90,000.

The government says its work to expand laboratory capacity includes using third-party providers, including Quest Diagnostics, which is in the U.S.

Yesterday, Premier Doug Ford said a shortage of lab technicians and chemicals needed to process tests were pushing Ontario to its capacity.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says the need to send tests to the U.S. shows the province is scrambling to respond to the second wave of the pandemic.

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The news comes as Ontario’s COVID-19 testing centres moved to an appointment-only model today in a bid to address long lineups at the sites.

Demand for testing surged in recent weeks as schools reopened across the province.

The government introduced new testing guidelines last week aimed at cutting the number of people seeking assessments, and also said it had reached out to universities and private labs to address the testing backlog.

Ford noted Tuesday that the testing backlog had dropped to 55,483 tests and said the shift to appointment-only testing was going well.

“More and more people I’ve talked to, they’re happy about setting up a schedule,” he said. “They can make an appointment, they don’t have to wait in line.”

Some people arriving for testing at sites in Mississauga, Ont., on Tuesday said they were satisfied with the new model.

Mike Bradvic, who was getting tested for the third time, said he waited in his car for about an hour to get tested at a drive-in assessment centre. He said that was better than when he had to wait between three to four hours for his previous tests.

“I like it better,” he said about appointment-only testing. “I just think it’s a little bit more organized.”

Sharida Appana, 53, also said she had a good experience after booking an appointment online Tuesday morning to get tested at Trillium Health Mississauga Hospital the same day.

“It’s better this way, very safe,” she said.

Deepika Rajapaksha, who works at a hospital, said she was able to book an appointment on Monday for a test Tuesday morning.

“It was very easy. They’re very organized and we don’t have too much waiting,” she said, adding that she had waited in long lines for previous tests.

Ontario reported 548 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and seven new deaths due to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 201 cases are in Toronto, 90 in Peel Region and 62 in Ottawa. She said 61 per cent of today’s cases are in people under the age of 40.

The province also reported 74 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 41 among students. Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 347 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

With files from Denise Paglinawan in Mississauga, Ont.

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