Local COVID-19 assessment centre expanding, more staff to be hired

HALIFAX: More staff will be hired at the COVID-19 assessment centre in Antigonish to accommodate its expansion.

During an announcement on October 8, the province confirmed that “most” primary assessment centres around the province – including the facility at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish – will be getting larger locations, will open for longer hours and have more staff.

“Currently there is one ‘pod’ or private cubicle in which there’s a chair and privacy barriers to do COVID-19 testing,” Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) spokesperson Brendan Elliot said of the Antigonish centre. “That will be expanded to three pods over the coming weeks. We currently have two to four staff, depending on the day. This number will increase when the expansion occurs but I’m unable to say at this point how many extra staff will be required.”

The primary assessment centre at St. Martha’s operates seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“The hours of operation are continually under review and could be adjusted based on demand,” Elliot noted.

The province also announced plans to add equipment in Sydney in early November to eventually process tests instead of sending them to Halifax.

Elliot told The Reporter that includes the NSHA’s Eastern Zone – which includes all of Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia.

“Samples in the Eastern Zone will be going to Cape Breton Regional Hospital to be analyzed once the site is up and running,” Elliot said. “And yes, the goal is for faster turnaround time compared to sending to Halifax.”

The IWK Health Centre will expand its primary assessment centre to double its capacity and increase the speed of testing for children. The expansion will be fully operational by the third week of October.

The IWK also started using the gargle test on October 7, to diagnose COVID-19 in children ages four to 18. Noting that it is a more comfortable test for children, the province said that once they’ve piloted the process, the gargle test will soon be available for children at all primary assessment centres.

With the on-line COVID-19 self-assessment now in place, on-line booking for testing appointments will also be established. It will dramatically reduce the wait time to book an appointment. The on-line process will take about 10 minutes, down from 24 to 48 hours.

The province is also aiming to increase lab capacity in Halifax to process 2,500 tests per day by mid-November.

Primary assessment centres have collected an average of 752 samples for testing per day since the beginning of September. Current lab capacity in Halifax is 1,500 tests per day and an average of 958 samples per day have been processed since the beginning of September.

“Testing is a key part of our overall COVID-19 response,” added Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang. “When active cases and new cases are low, we can become complacent. It can be easy to not want to get a test or wear a mask if you think there’s no virus here. In fact, it is just as important as ever.”