The number of people seeking COVID-19 tests has doubled in two weeks at London’s lone assessment centre as the pandemic’s subvariant-fuelled seventh wave rolls through the region.
The Carling Heights assessment centre is seeing 70 to 80 people a day, up from half that number last month, and has prescribed antiviral COVID pills to about 150 people since June 21, said centre director Kim Planques.
The increase comes despite tight eligibility criteria for lab-based COVID testing in Ontario. The centre, which has about 12 to 20 staff on duty daily, can handle as many as 300 appointments a day if necessary, Planques said.
The centre began prescribing Paxlovid, an antiviral drug available to symptomatic COVID patients at greatest risk of severe complications, on March 2. By June 20, some 200 prescriptions had been issued, Planques said, and that number is now closer to 350.
Ontario has put strict limits on which patients get Paxlovid, which can only be prescribed within five days of symptoms appearing to reduce the likelihood of illness worsening, she said. People with other conditions or taking other medications may be ineligible.
“A good percentage, like 75 to 80 per cent of patients that come through, are eligible for Paxlovid,” Planques said.
For those who don’t qualify, there are options, she added. Remdesivir, another antiviral used to prevent COVID symptoms worsening in high-risk patients, “is being ordered through the infectious disease team at London Health Sciences Centre and we’ll refer them.”
Remdesivir grabbed headlines in October 2020 when it was given to then-U.S. president Donald Trump after he was infected with the virus.
The Carling Heights assessment centre will stay open until March 2023, London Health Sciences Centre said last month. It and a second test centre at Oakridge arena opened within days of each other in March 2020; the Oakridge site closed 16 months later on July 16, 2021.
Thehe Carling site evolved from a drive-thru model with limited testing capability early in the pandemic to an appointment-only clinic offering COVID testing, medical assessment and treatment to eligible patients.
Latest available figures show 1,919 lab-based COVID tests were completed in London and Middlesex County the week of June 26., down from a record 15,484 the week of Dec. 26, 2021.
In recent weeks, COVID levels in London wastewater have hit highs not seen since the pandemic’s sixth wave in March and April, as the Middlesex-London Health Unit reports an increase in cases as the BA.5 Omicron subvariant becomes dominant in the region.