COVID-19 clinical assessments and testing

What you need to know before, during and after a clinical assessment or test.

Last updated: June 11, 2022

Find a testing location or clinical assessment centre

Getting a clinical assessment

Clinical assessment centres can test, assess and provide treatment options for COVID-19. You should visit one if you have symptoms and:

  • are at higher risk for COVID-19 and need to get tested and assessed for treatment (including antiviral treatment)
  • have been directed by your primary care provider

You do not need to have a positive test result to visit. You should bring a list of your medications and a list of any important medical conditions.

If you develop severe symptoms requiring medical attention, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, call 911 or go to the emergency department.

Find a clinical assessment centre

Getting tested

In response to highly transmissible variants, Ontario has updated its testing guidelines to ensure those at higher risk of sever illness or living and working in the highest risk settings have access to timely testing, protecting the most vulnerable and helping to keep critical services running.

There are two main publicly-funded tests available in Ontario to those who are eligible: rapid antigen tests and molecular tests, which include both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid molecular testing.

Antiviral treatments are now available for people with symptoms and a positive test result (PCR or rapid antigen test) who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19. These treatments must be taken immediately within the first five to seven days (depending on the treatment) of symptom onset.

Find out more about antiviral treatment options or talk to your health care provider.

If you have questions related to COVID-19 testing and isolation guidelines, please call the Provincial Testing and Isolation Information line at 1-888-777-0730.

Rapid antigen tests

Rapid antigen tests detect certain proteins in the virus to confirm the presence of COVID-19. A sample, which can be self-collected, is taken using a swab in the nose and/or throat or nasopharynx (behind your nose and above the back of your throat) and can produce a result in as little as 15 minutes.

Positive results from rapid antigen tests should be treated as confirmed cases of COVID-19 and do not need to be verified by a PCR/rapid molecular test. If you receive a positive result, you must isolate (except to seek medical care) and your household members may also need to isolate.

For more information, visit what to do if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

What they are used for

Ontario is directly procuring additional rapid antigen tests, in addition to receiving rapid antigen tests from the federal government, to ensure sufficient provincial supply.

Rapid antigen tests continue to be available through the Provincial Antigen Screening Program for any organization that is open and that has employees working on-site. This includes  Ontario’s highest risk sectors to prevent worker shortages and to provide an additional layer of protection to our most vulnerable populations, as well as essential services and small and medium-sized businesses.

Rapid antigen tests are also being provided to students and staff in public elementary and secondary schools, along with children and staff in child care settings.

To further support the province’s cautious easing of public health measures, the Ontario government expanded access to free rapid antigen tests to the general public for at-home use. Since February 9, 2022, rapid antigen tests have been available for free through more than 3,100 participating grocery and pharmacy locations and targeted distribution to high priority communities through High Priority Community lead agencies and community-based primary care sites. Rapid antigen tests at these locations will continue to be available until December 31, 2022.

Learn more about rapid testing for at-home use.

How to test

Rapid antigen tests can be used for the following reasons:

  • For “test-to-work” purposes to meet critical workforce needs in the highest risk settings
    Test-to-work is a strategy to support work-self isolation in critical work shortages, in which staff are able to return to work when they would otherwise be on self-isolation at home (for example, after exposure to someone with COVID-19).
  • For screening people without symptoms
    Frequent, repeated rapid antigen testing of people without symptoms and without known exposure to someone with COVID-19, with the goal of identifying cases that have yet to show symptoms or have no symptoms. While one-off testing is generally not recommended (for example, before a social gathering), if you choose to use a rapid antigen test in this way, complete it as close to the event as possible and know that a negative result could be a false negative.
  • For testing people with symptoms
    When used by people with symptoms, rapid antigen tests can help them know how likely it is that the symptoms are caused by COVID-19 and whether or not they should isolate. A positive test result is highly indicative that you have COVID-19 and that you must isolate, except to seek medical care. If you have two negative rapid antigen tests taken 24-48 hours apart, then it is less likely that you have COVID-19. You should isolate until you have no fever and your symptoms are improving for 24 hours (or 48 hours if experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms).

Access free rapid antigen tests at participating retailers.

Molecular testing

Both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid molecular tests can confirm if you have COVID-19.

For both methods, a health care professional or other trained individual will collect a sample by swabbing your nose or throat. Samples may also be self-collected if using a PCR self-collection kit.

Samples taken for PCR testing must be sent to a lab and results will generally be available a few days later.

Samples taken during rapid molecular testing do not need to be sent to a lab and results are generally available the same day.

Where we’re using rapid molecular tests

Rapid molecular tests are used primarily in rural and remote settings. This is because:

  • turnaround times for traditional lab-based PCR test results may be slower in these areas due to logistical challenges of transporting specimens long distances from these settings to labs
  • we are supporting community-led efforts to prevent the spread of  in rural and remote regions, including Indigenous communities

Public health units across the province also use them to help detect positive cases more quickly. For example, rapid molecular testing may be used in early outbreak investigations and testing campaigns for vulnerable populations, like people who are homeless or people living in congregate settings.

Who is eligible for PCR or rapid molecular testing

You are eligible for PCR or rapid molecular testing if you have COVID-19 symptoms  and are any of the following:

  • a patient-facing health care worker
  • a patient in an emergency department, at the discretion of the treating clinician
  • a staff member, volunteer, resident, inpatient, essential care provider, or visitor in the highest risk setting
  • a home and community care worker
  • a student or staff at a Provincial Demonstration School or a hospital school
  • someone at higher-risk for severe COVID-19 who would be eligible for outpatient treatment (treatment outside hospital) following an assessment and positive test
  • someone who lives with a patient-facing health care worker and/or a worker in the highest risk settings
  • an outpatient being considered for COVID-19 treatment
  • an outpatient who requires a diagnostic test for clinical management
  • a temporary foreign worker living in a congregate setting
  • underhoused or experiencing homelessness
  • pregnant
  • a first responder, including firefighters, police and paramedics
  • an elementary or secondary student or education staff who has received a PCR self-collection kit, if available through your school
  • other individuals as directed by the local public health unit based on outbreak investigations in high risk settings, etc.

Whether you have symptoms or not, you are eligible for PCR or rapid POC molecular testing if you:

  • are an individual from a First Nation, Inuit, Métis community, and/or who self-identifies as First Nation, Inuit, and Métis and their household members
  • are an individual travelling into First Nation, Inuit, Métis communities for work
  • are being admitted or transferred to or from a hospital or congregate living setting
  • are a close contact of someone in a confirmed or suspected outbreak in a highest risk setting, or other settings as directed by the local public health unit
  • are scheduled for a surgical procedure requiring general anesthetic in the next 24-48 hours
  • have written prior approval for out-of-country medical services from the General Manager of OHIP or are a caregiver for someone who does
  • are in a hospital, long-term care, retirement home or other congregate living setting, as directed by public health units, provincial guidance or other directives

If you have symptoms but are not eligible for testing, assume you have and follow the steps for what to do if you’ve been exposed to .

Where to get tested or assessed

Publicly funded PCR testing is available to eligible individuals at clinical assessment centres, non-clinical assessment centres (testing only), participating community labs and participating pharmacies across Ontario.

Some testing locations may also have PCR self-collection kits available, which allow you to collect the sample on your own (under supervision on-site or by yourself at home), then return it to the testing location for processing by a lab.

Find a testing location

Private  tests, such as those needed for outbound international travel, are also available for purchase throughout Ontario.

Certain private clinics may take blood to do an antibody or serology test to tell you if you had the virus in the past. This test has significant limitations and is not used routinely in Ontario, except in limited situations. Ask your doctor or health care provider for more information.

Getting tested at a pharmacy

Participating pharmacies offer various testing options to eligible individuals, including:

  • in-store lab-based PCR testing, by appointment only
  • PCR self-collection kits, with no appointment necessary

Eligible individuals will be able to pick up a lab-based PCR self-collection kit at a participating pharmacy, conduct the specimen collection at-home, and then return the collected specimen to the pharmacy to be sent for processing in a lab.

Participating pharmacies can choose which of these testing options are offered at their stores and not every participating pharmacy site will offer all services.

Find a participating pharmacy

Still not sure?

Take our self-assessment to help you decide what to do or speak with your health care provider if you are unsure whether any of the above criteria apply to you.

For more information, read the latest provincial testing guidance (PDF).

Cleaning and safety standards

We understand that going to a testing location may be stressful. Please know that all testing locations have very high cleaning and safety standards to make sure the virus does not spread. Testing locations must have and follow infection prevention and control measures in compliance with the provincial testing guidance (PDF) to protect Ontarians against COVID-19.

The testing location staff will:

  • require appointments for in-store testing at participating pharmacies
  • wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • organize a dedicated space to perform testing
  • routinely disinfect the testing area using the highest-quality cleaning products

The testing location staff may also request that you wear a mask.

What to bring with you

  • your Ontario health (OHIP) card (you can still get tested if you do not have one)
  • face covering or mask (as masking may be required)
  • assistive or accessibility devices (if you need them)
  • snacks (if you must eat every so often for medical reasons)

The testing location staff may also request that you wear a mask.

At the testing location

You should follow public health measures, including:

  • wearing a face covering or mask if required (only take it down below your nose when you are told to)
  • washing or sanitizing your hands often

What to expect

Most testing locations use a long, flexible swab to collect a sample through your nose.

You may feel some discomfort for a little while after. The swab is:

  • put in one nostril
  • rotated for five to 10 seconds
  • sometimes put into the other nostril

Most swabs go deep to rub against the inner side of the nose. It may feel similar to when you get water up your nose – temporarily uncomfortable, but not painful.

Some testing locations, including pharmacies, may use less invasive collection methods such as nose or throat swabs or collection of saliva.

How long the testing process takes

Between the screening and the swab, it should take about 10 to 30 minutes. Time at each location varies.

Bringing people with you

If possible, please avoid bringing people with you unless they are also getting tested.

If you need someone with you during the test, ask the testing location ahead of time to confirm if this is possible.

Getting your PCR test result

For PCR testing, the sample is sent to a lab for viral testing. This test detects viral genetic material and is the most accurate.

Some clinical assessments centres use rapid molecular testing, which can provide diagnostic results in about 15 minutes.

Learn more about how samples are tested for COVID-19.

On average, most lab-based PCR test results are ready within 48 hours of your test. This is not guaranteed and could take longer.

Depending on the testing location, you may be able to get your result:

  • online on the Test Results Website if you have a photo (green) health card
  • on another website that the testing location will tell you about
  • by phone

The testing location will give you instructions that are specific to your situation.

Learn more about how samples are tested for COVID-19.

What your test result means

Positive

A positive test means that you have the virus and you must isolate, except to get health care. If you test positive on a rapid antigen test, you do not need a PCR or rapid molecular test to confirm your result, unless directed by a health care provider. To find out how long you should isolate, follow the steps on what to do if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

Antiviral treatments are now available for people with symptoms and a positive test result (PCR or rapid antigen test) who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19. These treatments must be taken immediately within the first five to seven days (depending on the treatment) of symptom onset.

Find out more about antiviral treatment options or talk to your health care provider.

If you’ve tested positive on a PCR test or rapid molecular test, a public health representative may contact you either by phone call or text message and ask you questions.

All people that you were in close contact with 48 hours before you developed COVID-19 symptoms (or 48 hours before your test if you never had symptoms) should be informed that you have tested positive.

If you develop severe symptoms requiring medical attention, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, call 911 and inform them that you have tested positive for COVID-19.

Negative

Unlike rapid antigen tests, which may show a negative result even though you have the virus, a negative PCR result means we were not able to detect the virus at the time of your test.

If you were exposed to a COVID-19-positive person but test negative, find out what to do next.

You should also continue to follow COVID-19 public health measures, including wearing a face covering or mask if required, frequent handwashing and maintaining physical distance from anyone you do not live with. Pay attention to your health to note if anything changes.

Mandatory testing while travelling

Visit Travelling outside of Ontario for more information on travelling to another province or territory and for guidance on travelling to an international destination. For information on Canadian testing requirements, visit : Travel, testing and borders.