Behind the scenes at Kitchener's COVID-19 testing tent

Dr. Rupinder Sahsi is one of the people who helps run the COVID-19 drive-thru testing clinic in Kitchener.

Staff test between 400 to 500 people daily since tent started in June

Dr. Rupinder Sahsi, left, is seen in this tweeted photo of the "on duty physician team" at the Grand River Hospital COVID-19 testing tent in a parking lot at 137 Glasglow St. in Kitchener. (Grand River Hospital/@grhospitalkw/Twitter)

Thousands of people have gone to the drive-through COVID-19 testing centre in the parking lot of Catalyst 137 in Kitchener.

Dr. Rupinder Sahsi is one of the faces people see when they go to get a test. He explained to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition's Julianne Hazlewood what people can expect when they attend the testing clinic and some of the misconceptions people have.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Rupinder Sahsi: In terms of testing, a lot of people have some ideas about testing because it's evolved over time. When we first started doing COVID testing, of course, you had to fit certain criteria. Like you had to have certain symptoms or certain exposures. 

Now that we're doing the testing on this scale, we've opened it up so even if you don't have symptoms, you just simply have to be concerned about the possibility of COVID, and you're eligible to come in and get a test … [The drive-through] opened on June 13 and now Grand River Hospital is responsible for about half of the COVID-19 testing done in our region.

Julianne Hazlewood: How many people have come through there each day or how many people do you expect to come through there today?

RS: It's busy. It's been steadily busy throughout the tenure of the tent. Our peak day was 515 patients that we got through from 7:30 to 5:30. Usually it goes about 400 to 500, maybe a little bit less on weekends, but yeah it's a lot of people and it's a bit of a well-oiled machine.

JH: When people do come through, are they getting the nasal swab? The throat swab? Both?

RS: They are getting the nasal swab. A lot of people are dreading the nasal swab because they have heard about how agonizing it is. 

[But] it's a quick process. It takes about five or 10 seconds and we kind of liken it to that feeling you get when you're in the pool and you get chlorinated water up your nose or you've bitten into a little too much wasabi. It may make your eyes water briefly but it's over with.

JH: On the topic of misconceptions, what do you want to clear up?

RS: Well, when the tent first started, there were a couple of media pieces that talked about, 'Oh my gosh, how long it takes to get it done. And how long they're waiting in line.' The line actually moves relatively quickly. Even when we're really backed up, it usually is an hour or two at most in the line. 

And of course, you're in your vehicle, you've got your air conditioning on the hot days and you've got your tunes. You get through the line and once you get through registration and so on if it doesn't take very long at all.

JH: What do people need to know before coming before they arrive?

RS: You need to bring documentation, so bring your health card. Even if you don't have a health card, we can arrange for the test to be done. 

When people arrive they get a demographic form as well as a questionnaire about their symptoms that they can fill out while they're waiting and then they get through the first tent, which is a registration tent, make their way around to our testing tent and we go from there. 

Once you get swabbed, the tests overall have been taking about five or seven days to come back, although lately we've been getting tests back pretty quickly.

The drive-thru testing clinic in Kitchener tests between 400 and 500 people every day. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

JH: Are there lessons that you've learned and applied to the system now to streamline it?

RS: Well, the whole process was a learning curve. We've based the model on stuff that's being used elsewhere and put our own spin on things.

You're setting up a remote location with a remote internet connection to the hospital and lots of technology all over the place so glitches are bound to happen. But for the most part we've got those ironed out and it's just really great to be able to work with a team that's come together and is motivated to get this done for our community.

JH: As a doctor in this community what concerns you as we move forward into a potential second wave?

RS: Oh, that's really tough because we really don't know what a second wave is going to look like. And, to be honest, while a lot of people are kind of relaxing a little bit [during] the summer months and we've moved into more relaxed phases of our COVID response, the health care sector in general hasn't really taken a break. 

A lot of our "emerg" staff are trying to keep the tent open and picking up extra shifts here on top of their usual allotment of what they're doing in our emergency departments.

A lot of us are getting pretty tired. So, you know, let's make sure it's not for naught. Please, you know, wash your hands, wear your mask out in public, pay attention to the physical distancing guidelines from public health and let's make sure we can get through this together.


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