covid vaccine antiviral

Ontario to expand eligibility for COVID-19 antiviral treatments and PCR testing

Ontario will expand eligibility for COVID-19 antiviral treatments and PCR testing to more high-risk individuals, in an attempt to increase the protection of the most vulnerable individuals and ensure hospital capacity remains stable. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, made the announcement today at Queens Park (his first public briefing since early March) amid rising COVID-19 cases.

Effective immediately, the following higher-risk groups are eligible to be tested and assessed for antiviral treatments, such as Paxlovid, in Ontario:

  • Individuals aged 18 and over who are immunocompromised (have an immune system that is weakened by a health condition or medications);
  • Individuals aged 70 and over;
  • Individuals aged 60 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses;
  • Individuals aged 18 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses and at least one risk condition (e.g., a chronic medical condition)

Anyone who is eligible for an assessment is also eligible for a PCR test at any testing centre in Ontario.

The province also announced that beginning April 12, it will be easier for eligible individuals with prescriptions to access antivirals, as Ontario is expanding dispensing locations to include participating pharmacies across the province (the list of pharmacies that are dispensing Paxlovid will be available at Ontario.ca/antivirals as of Wednesday at 8:00 a.m.).

Treatment for antivirals must be started within five days of symptoms, in most cases.  Ontarians can access the province’s antiviral screener tool to help determine if they are at higher risk and should be assessed for treatment.

A positive rapid antigen test, PCR, or rapid molecular test is required as part of the assessment for antiviral treatment. Rapid antigen tests remain available for pick up, for free, from over 3,000 retail locations across the province. Clinical assessment centres will continue to assess patients and dispense antivirals.

The province is also working with health care providers to prioritize groups that may be at increased risk (e.g., due to other health-related factors and barriers to health care), including First Nation, Inuit, and Métis individuals, Black individuals, and members of other racialized communities. Health care providers may also determine if antiviral treatment is appropriate for patients based on individual circumstances even if they do not belong to one of the groups listed.

As for masks— when Moore was asked why there’s no need for a mask mandate in schools, he responded, “We’ve not seen any significant threat to the health of children” and that out of 2.7 million kids in Ontario, there are 2 in the ICU with COVID.

He added that the province “will not be reinstating a broad mask mandate at this time,” but noted that, if a new variant emerges, “we may need to resume our requirement for mask-wearing,” which received mixed reactions across social media.

Ontario reported 1,090 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Monday, with 184 people in intensive care.

This is an increase of 113 hospitalizations and 11 ICU cases compared to the previous report, although not all hospitals reported updated figures due to the weekend. Regarding hospitalizations from the weekend, 55% of people were admitted for other reasons but tested positive for COVID-19. Of ICU patients, 36% were admitted for other reasons.

Click here for more COVID-19 Ontario news, and here for where you could get rapid COVID-19 tests in Toronto (including a drive-thru option).

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO