December 3, 2023

As the fall approaches, some experts say it might be a good idea to know how to get your hands on a COVID-19 test if you need one. 

Dr. Donald Vinh is an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre. Lately, he says he’s seen an increase in number of patients who are symptomatic with COVID-19.

That trend, coupled with a change in people’s social behaviour with the return to school and the colder weather ahead, has him concerned, he says.

“That constellation of ingredients is going to lead to a very bad-tasting cake,” said Vinh.

According to data collected by Quebec’s institute of public health (INSPQ), the average level of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Montreal’s wastewater has been on the rise since mid-August, though levels remain overall low.

Last week, just under 2,000 new cases were recorded in the province. On Tuesday, in Montreal there were 192 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, including five people who are in intensive care. 

The rise in COVID cases is happening as many people have waning immunity, with their last booster coming more than six months ago, said Vinh. 

According to Quebec’s Health Ministry, an updated vaccine booster will be available in October. 

To decrease the rate of the spread, Vinh suggests people wear a mask in crowded areas, make sure those areas are properly ventilated and get tested if they feel symptomatic. 

Where to find a test

Rapid tests are available free of charge to anyone who wants one at Quebec’s various vaccination and screening centres.  

Some pharmacies also offer free tests but these are reserved for vulnerable and at-risk members of the population, people covered by Quebec’s public drug plan, youths age 14 to 17 and full-time students up to the age of 25. 

Members of the general public can still purchase tests at certain pharmacies for a price ranging between $6 and $10 per test. A box usually contains at least two tests.

However, not many pharmacies sell the tests because demand for them has been low, according to Benoit Morin, the president of the Association québécoise des pharmaciens propriétaires — a group that represents pharmacist-owners. 

“We don’t use it on healthy people or young people so we don’t need to know what kind of virus they’re having,” says Morin. He says healthy people should stay home and take care of themselves if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. 

Dr. Vinh disagrees, adding that testing is vital to tracking the virus’ spread. He says he hopes the Health Ministry will adjust its policy accordingly and widen the distribution of rapid tests in anticipation of high community transmission. 

Currently there are around 65 million rapid tests in Quebec’s warehouses according to the Health Ministry. Since demand for these has been low, a portion of the surplus will be shared with other countries in partnership with the Collaboration Santé Internationale, an organization that works with medical centres in developing countries. 

Free testing kits also remain available in schools and daycares. Depending on demand, these settings may receive more in the coming weeks. Employers at private companies and community organizations can also obtain rapid tests for their staff through the Health Ministry. 

WATCH | Infectious diseases specialist on latest advice for COVID-19 booster shots:

What you should know about COVID-19 this fall

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Zain Chagla speaks with Ian Hanomansing about what he’s seeing with COVID-19 cases in Canada this fall and goes over the latest advice around booster shots.


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