Richmond County lobbies for more COVID-19 testing sites

ARICHAT: Municipal councillors want more COVID-19 testing in Richmond County.

During the regular monthly meeting on April 26, Richmond Municipal Council agreed to send a letter to the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) requesting more testing sites in the municipality.

Warden Amanda Mombourquette told council there are not many options for residents looking to get tested in Richmond County.

“I’ve been hearing from residents that they’re concerned about the lack of, both symptomatic, but more particularly, asymptomatic testing facilities in Richmond County,” she told council. We do have appointments that people can book at the Strait-Richmond, they seem to book up really, really quickly. There’s also been a pop-up rapid testing site in St. Peter’s at least twice in the last number of months. There had been concerns expressed about how well advertised those are.”

With provincial, and even local, numbers on the rise and travel restrictions in place, Mombourquette said this would be a way to keep people in their own municipality.

“Even without the travel restriction in place, having to drive to Sydney, Antigonish or Baddeck was a significant barrier for many seniors, and people without access to transportation,” she noted.

In supporting the letter, District 3 Councillor Melanie Sampson requested the NSHA do more and better advertising.

“First of all, that they’re listed on the Nova Scotia health web site,” she noted. “Even if we got notice, we could advertise it through the Richmond County social media channels, which we’ve done when they’ve come but some people don’t go to social media sites for information like that, they go to the Nova Scotia health.”

Deputy Warden Michael Diggdon said more testing will help Richmond County keep its numbers down.

“It would be very nice to have some more rapid testing or some testing so that we can maintain our very, very, very low numbers,” he said.

Council also decided to close its administrative building in Arichat to the public for two weeks.

To help out, CAO Don Marchand said staff are willing to be flexible with the end of June deadline to pay municipal taxes.

“We do feel that since we’re having meetings via Zoom that it would likely be prudent to restrict the public from coming in to the municipal building,” he said. “There are a lot of people that come in to pay their taxes, but from last year, a lot of people did set themselves up for online banking so we trust that a lot of people will find alternate ways of paying their taxes. We do, of course, offer that service. People can call in, the staff have been very helpful to set up folks on online banking. It’s worked rather well. And people continue to send in their mail so we really don’t see, at this time, a need for people to come in to pay their taxes. We don’t see a lot, there are a few people that come in.”

Other local municipalities, like the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, the Town of Port Hawkesbury and the Municipality of the County of Inverness, all closed their offices, Marchand said.

The district 3 councillor agreed, noting that public health recommends that employers, who are able, allow their employees to work from home.

“I do certainly see CAO Marchand’s comments as following along with what public health is looking for us to do,” Sampson said. “The reality is (municipal staff) probably field a fair number of questions through the phone, which I’m sure would be forwarded, and emails, and Zoom calls. They’ve done this before so I feel very confident that we can provide good service to residents and keep people safe.”

The CAO explained that while the office is closed to public access, employees will work in the office and at home in alternating shifts.

“I’m just referring to closing for public access. Staff will still be coming to work,” Marchand said. “Last year what we did was we evaluated the requirements for people to be in the office, and alternated staff.”

While they do have to have to follow guidelines, the deputy warden said he doesn’t want those who were unable to meet the tax deadline penalized because they aren’t set up for online banking or etransfers.

“We also want to be able to provide the service necessary to the public since that is our ultimate role,” he said. “We do want to make sure that for those who do want to pay in-person, that we don’t penalize them for not being able to make it in to the building.”

Council also decided that the municipal transfer station will remain open, but visits to the office will be discontinued. Anyone over-weight with their loads, will have their bills mailed.