LONDON, ONT -- It’s not just cities seeing a surge in demand for COVID-19 testing, rural Ontario is seeing an “incredible increase” in requests for tests.

“We’ve seen an incredible increase in volumes at our assessment centre at the Kincardine hospital. Typically we’d see between 40 to 50 people over the summer months, our highest day was 85. This Monday we saw 350. So the volumes have increased dramatically,” says South Bruce Grey Health Centre CEO, Michael Barrett.

COVID-19 test requests have quadrupled at the Hanover hospital, and risen sharply in Stratford, Owen Sound, and Listowel as well.

A new testing site is opening in Harriston next month. The increase is mainly due to school screening policies that have sent students with minor symptoms, like a runny nose or cough, for testing.

“All the tests that have been conducted on school students in Grey-Bruce have come back negative, which is reassuring. It also reaffirms the conservative approach that we’ve taken,” says the Medical Officer of Health for Grey-Bruce, Dr. Ian Arra.

While the number of COVID tests and cases rise in major cities, the case count remains low, if non-existent in Midwestern Ontario, even though there have never been more tests conducted.

There are currently four active cases in all of Grey, Bruce, Huron, and Perth Counties.

“Now that we know, we can move to a less conservative approach and we have in Grey-Bruce. We look to the isolation only of the case, and self-monitoring for the family, and an example. We hope to continue to see these results and manage as we go forward,” says Dr.Arra.

Although 60 pharmacies province-wide will soon be able to conduct COVID tests, none of them are in Midwestern Ontario.

With demand for tests expected to remain high throughout the school year, Barrett hospitals will be looking for help to manage the workload.

“We’re actually using hospital staff to run our assessment centre. So, we’re going to be working closely with our partners to see whether primary care, public health, long term care, or paramedics could take on some of the testing capacity, along with the assessment centre in Kincardine,” says Barrett.