THUNDER BAY – Local COVID-19 testing efforts got a major boost over the weekend thanks to a new drive-through testing initiative. With hundreds of tests conducted in just two days, health officials say it’s a model they’re likely to use more in coming weeks as they look to broaden testing in the community.
Paramedics tested about 300 people on Saturday and Sunday at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit. It’s a significant addition to the 1,137 tests conducted across the district in total as of Thursday.
Anyone experiencing a common COVID-19 symptom was eligible for testing, with appointments booked over the phone through the health unit.
The process took only minutes, with tests conducted through vehicle windows with a nasopharyngeal swab. Samples will be sent to Toronto for testing, with the health unit expecting results by Wednesday or Thursday.
Shane Muir, community paramedicine coordinator for Superior North EMS, said the process had its advantages for health workers as well, saving time and reducing the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The initiative was a bigger success than anticipated, tripling the initial goal of 100 tests. Muir praised the dedication of staff who worked full days outdoors covered in PPE.
“It turns out our paramedics are super efficient, and they were able to cram in a lot more visits than we expected," he said. "The appointment times got compressed quite a bit.”
As for the procedure itself, he said testing causes only slight, momentary discomfort for the patient.
“[It’s] quite simple – we’re just taking what looks like a large Q-tip and inserting it in the nose. It does cause some discomfort, [but it’s] simple and quick.”
Tanelle Rabachuk, director of health protection and chief nursing officer at the health unit, said the organization now has enough supplies to continue ramping up testing in the coming weeks.
“We’ve had better communication with the ministry, and their capacity has increased,” she explained. “We haven’t had any issues getting the swabs we request.”
She said the health unit plans to hold more drive-through testing events throughout the community. Details have not yet been released, but members of the public can stay up to date at the health unit’s website.