THUNDER BAY - With much of the city reopened and students back in school, the demand for COVID-19 testing is rapidly increasing and hospital officials say as the numbers continue to rise, it will be difficult to manage the capacity without making testing a community effort.
“I think we can continue to see that ramping up. The capacity is just going to be unmanageable to some extent,” said Jackie Park, clinical coordinator of the COVID-19 assessment centre at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
According to Park, in the last several weeks, the COVID-19 assessment centre is processing approximately 2,500 tests per week and receives 300 calls per day for potential testing.
She attributes the increase to more businesses reopening during the summer and students returning to the classroom earlier this month.
The assessment centre uses a triage process to prioritize who should be tested first. Those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive or individuals showing moderate to severe symptoms will be tested the same day or next.
Individuals who require a test for other reasons, such as booking a visit to a long-term care home, can expect to wait between four and five days to receive a test.
Test results are analyzed locally either at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre or at the Public Health lab. But due to the high volumes, test results are not available until two to five days later.
“We understand that the volume is high,” Park said. “We do have more than 300 calls a day, so patience is needed.”
With such high demand for COVID-19 tests, which is expected to increase, Park said she has been in contact with Ontario Health and other community partners to create a community approach to testing.
“I think here in Thunder Bay we are going to have to start taking a community approach to testing and the assessment centre shouldn’t be the only place that will be doing testing,” she said. “I am working with different partners in the community to make that happen.”
In the next two weeks, the assessment centre at the hospital will also be moving from the trailers setup in the emergency department parking lot to the Medical Centre adjacent to the hospital, which Park said should also help them add more testing capacity.
“It will decrease the traffic at the emergency department and increase the traffic we are able to do,” she said.
“We will continue to do drive-through testing to manage that volume until the snow flies. What we will have to do as time goes on is really prioritize who is a priority to get a test so we are not missing people who are a higher risk of actually having COVID.”
Drive-through testing takes place once a week on Tuesdays in partnership with Superior North EMS.
Individuals with no symptoms looking to book a COVID-19 test can do so online. Those who have moderate or severe symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 can call the assessment centre at 935-8100 to book a test.