In the case of Toronto, the old approach of offering tests to anyone who could make their way to a hospital-based assessment centre often missed people living in virus-battered neighbourhoods, according to data the city’s public-health unit began releasing in mid-October.
The data revealed that some of the places with the highest COVID-19 test positivity rates also had some of the lowest rates of per-capita testing. Those neighbourhoods, located mainly in north Etobicoke and north Scarborough, have high proportions of new immigrants, racial minorities and people living in poverty.
Barriers to testing abound for such groups, said Jen Quinlan, the chief executive officer of a community health centre in Flemingdon Park, a pocket of high rises that is home to many new immigrants.
“The neighbourhood is about three buses away from the hospital. If you’re not feeling well, if you have a young child or an older relative, it’s quite a trek to Michael Garron [Hospital] or even further over to Sunnybrook.”
Non-English speakers struggled to book online testing appointments, Ms. Quinlan said. And for a time, newcomers were being turned away because they did not have Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) cards, she added.
In a bid to lower those barriers, Michael Garron Hospital (MGH,) the Scarborough Health Network and their community partners have launched a slew of new walk-in testing centres and pop-up clinics in coronavirus hot spots, including Flemingdon Park.
Hospitals and community groups in other parts of the Greater Toronto Area are doing the same, according to the provincial superagency Ontario Health.