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Hospital approved to analyze COVID-19 tests

When up in running within two weeks, it will cut the turnaround time from five to seven days to four to six hours.
Stewart Kennedy
Dr. Stewart Kennedy, head of Thunder Bay Regional's COVID-19 response team, says the hospital will soon be able to analyze coronavirus tests on-site in their own lab, cutting turnaround times down from days to hours. (Leith Dunick,

THUNDER BAY – The head of Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s COVID-19 response team says it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks before the hospital will be able to provide on-site analysis of coronavirus swabs.

At present tests are conducted at the hospital and sent to Toronto, with a turnaround time of five to seven days.

It’s a huge step in the battle against the spread of the global pandemic, which has yet to show itself in any local test that’s been returned.

“Late last night the Ministry of Health approved us to be a testing site for COVID-19 swabs. We anticipated this, so we had ordered the hardware and the technology to get it into Thunder Bay,” said Dr. Stewart Kennedy on Wednesday afternoon.

“It should be delivered shortly.”

Kennedy said there may be a slight delay because the equipment needed is coming from south of the border.

“I’m hoping we can do in-house testing in a couple of weeks. We’ll have the capacity to do 74 tests a day and a turnaround time of about four to six hours,” Kennedy said. “As long as we don’t get backlogged too, because we will provide this service for the region.”

The impact will be huge.

“Right now we’re following medical directives and we’ll have to change our medical directives, because we need to, at some point in time, get out to the community and do prevalent swabs to see what’s going on out in the community,” Kennedy said.

“Because we’re not fooling ourselves, we think there are cases out there. We need to make sure we have the technology, but also the turnaround time should be hastened to make sure we do that that in a calculated, etiological way.”

Kennedy applauded Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s decision to force mandatory quarantines on anyone returning to Canada from out of country, adding locally they would like to see anyone returning to Northwestern Ontario, regardless of where they visited, to also stay out of public places.

“We’re going to, in the next 24 to 48 hours, encourage people anywhere outside of Northwestern Ontario to self-isolate. That won’t be a public health directive, that will be a directive that we at Thunder Bay Regional Hospital are going to encourage because Toronto has more cases, Ottawa has more cases and we have flights back and forth between Toronto and Ottawa all the time,” Kennedy said.

“We need to protect our community and Northwestern Ontario, so we need to make that recommendation when I report back in the next day or two.”

Kennedy said the supply of swabs is fine in the region.

As for hospital beds, the Regional has a total of 299 inpatients, with a capacity of 387 beds. Several patients are expected to be moved to St. Joseph’s Care Group by week’s end, freeing up even more capacity.

About 200 patients have been tested in Thunder Bay, with about 150 tests returned, all negative.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 17 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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