September – Should I get tested for COVID-19? It’s time to think twice

Written by Communications, September 22, 2020

Op Ed from Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Medical Officer of Health Peterborough Public Health

With the recent run on COVID-19 testing in Peterborough, it is time for the community to step back and make some decisions about how best to use this valuable resource so that we all benefit.

Getting a COVID-19 test is not like putting air in the tires before a road trip – a negative test does not grant permission to attend a house party or wedding. It’s not like checking the doors at night to make sure they are locked – it should not be used to buy some reassurance. COVID-19 testing is a diagnostic test that can identify the presence of the COVID-19 virus in people who are infected. It is most accurate when people are displaying the symptoms of COVID-19, or in that short window of time when the virus is replicating but not yet causing symptoms. The months of testing here in Peterborough, where one in six of us has been tested, has demonstrated that for the most part, people without symptoms are not harbouring the virus.

Testing should be saved for those circumstances where there has been a high-risk exposure, like a close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or when someone has compatible symptoms.

You should be tested if you:

  • have symptoms of COVID-19, or
  • have been advised by public health that you should be tested because you were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, or
  • are required by government policy to be tested, such as staff at long-term care homes or international students coming out of quarantine.

If you have recently traveled to an area with a high number of COVID-19 cases (including in Ontario) you should limit your contact with others for 14 days and self-monitor for symptoms. Self-isolate and get tested only if symptoms develop.

As we learn more about this disease, we can fine tune the symptoms and decision-making about testing. British Columbia has announced that they are removing runny nose and sore throats from the list of COVID-19 symptoms that apply to school children. Hopefully Ontario will follow suit.

Using evidence and not fear to influence decisions about who needs to be tested is a recommended practice. With schools and child care centres open, we need to create some space to allow students and staff to access same-day testing if they fail their daily self-assessment. This is important to both protect schools, child care centres and households, but also to prevent unnecessary absenteeism for anyone who needs testing. We are calling on everyone in Peterborough to help create this space by NOT seeking a test if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms, and have not been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case.  Anyone advised to self-isolate or self-monitor by a public health nurse should continue to do so – testing is not a “get out of jail soon” card.

We are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we have universal access to healthcare and such great local providers. I am calling on everyone in Peterborough to help us save those precious resources for those who need them most. If you are not sure whether you need a COVID-19 test or not, go online and use the self-assessment tool, speak to your health care provider, or call us at 705-743-1000 to speak to a Public Health Nurse. We CAN do this together!

For more information about Dr. Salvaterra, her bio is available here: