By: Mike Anderson

While up to 60 pharmacies in Ontario are now providing free COVID-19 testing, so far, only one pharmacy has been approved in York Region.

And the Rexhall, located at 90 Copper Creek Dr, near Hwy. 407 and Boxgrove Bypass, will only be able to provide 25 tests a day, according to Dr. Karim Kurji, the region’s medical officer of health.

During Thursday’s Virtual Town Hall meeting with Mayor Margaret Quirk, Dr. Kurji acknowledged that one pharmacy for a region with more than a million people is inadequate.

“Unfortunately in York Region, there’s only one pharmacist who is currently doing the tests in Markham. And, I think the numbers of tests that are currently being done are only about 25 a day, but we hope that the numbers of pharmacists will expand,” said Dr. Kurji.

The pharmacy tests paid for by the province are by appointment only. They are restricted to select asymptomatic individuals, including those with family in long-term care, close contacts of a positive case or high-risk workers.

But with only one pharmacy approved so far in York Region, it appears the initiative will do little to boost testing capacity in the region.

This is disappointing news for residents facing long line-ups at Southlake’s COVID-19 Assessment Centre, even though the hospital recently extended its operating hours from 8 am to 9 pm.

Keswick resident Marilyn Mair drove Esther, her 89-year-old mother, to get a Covid test at Southlake, after being promised over the phone that she wouldn’t have to wait in line.

However, once they arrived, they were abruptly told by a staff member that only cancer patients were given priority, and her mother would have to get in line with everyone else.

“It was brutal,” said Ms. Mair. “My mom’s 89. You can’t make her wait hours in line. She’s high risk. I was so frustrated and angry, we just left.”

But, faced with no other options, Ms. Mair recently told The Post, she will have to take her mother back to Southlake to get tested.

Still, she would like to see the hospital treat seniors better.

“Senior citizens need to have either a separate line for them or a priority line,” she said.

“These are our seniors. We have to care. These are people’s moms!”

Long lines at Southlake have forced some residents to drive out of the region to get a test.

Udora resident Maureen McDermott drove to Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay to avoid the line-ups at Southlake.

But she waited more than four-and-a-half hours to get a test that would allow her to be a caregiver for her 93-year-old mother, whose a resident at River Glen Haven Nursing Home in Sutton.

“I must be tested every two weeks, which is a huge inconvenience but one that I would do gladly as it keeps me caring for my mother who is now at the end of her life at River Glen Haven,” wrote Ms. McDermott to Mayor Quirk and MPP Caroline Mulroney in a recent email.

“The line-ups are now four to eight hours at Southlake and up to six days for results. This is unacceptable. Our loved ones in long-term care are going to be affected by this. What is the plan to fix it?”

In an email response to The Post, Mayor Quirk says she’s hopeful a solution can be found.

“We have discussed the challenges surrounding many of our community members having access to transportation to the current testing sites,” said Mayor Quirk.

“The Nurse Practitioner’s had a very successful one-day clinic, which they may repeat this fall. I have reached out to our MPP’s office to ask that Georgina be included in the program for testing in pharmacies. I have been told there is a second phase to the program that will include other sites in York Region. Having local testing, especially as we move into the second wave, will be important to our residents.”

Although the Georgina Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic (GNPLC) is preparing to launch regular drive-thru testing this month, which would run every two weeks, those plans are still on hold, as the province changed its testing criteria last week.

According to Clinic Director Beth Cowper-Fung, GNPLC is still waiting to get the green light from Central LHIN and Public Health.

“Although NPs can do the testing, we need to have transport of the test and the lab available,” said Ms. Cowper-Fung.

However, she is confident that these details will be sorted out soon.

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