Mobile testing site opens in Côte-des-Neiges as confusion over criteria reigns

Mobile clinics have been touted as a service for those who meet criteria such as living in the surrounding community, having symptoms or having been in contact with a COVID-19 patient. But there is some confusion about who meets the testing criteria.

'I’m jumping at the opportunity,' says one resident who wishes screening was made more available sooner

The mobile testing clinic will be in Côte-Des-Neiges until Friday and is capable of testing up to 300 people per day. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

Lubin Bisson has been feeling a bit off the last few days, with some minor cold symptoms and fatigue, so he decided to get tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

He checked online and saw one of Montreal's new clinics on wheels was parked at the Bill-Durnan Arena in Côte-des-Neiges. The only other walk-in clinic was in Montréal-Nord, about the same distance from his home in Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie.

So, he strapped on a mask and headed across town. He registered, was directed onto a retrofitted bus and was swabbed.

"Everything went smooth," Bisson said. "It took about a half-hour."

Premier François Legault has said he's not satisfied with the number of COVID-19 tests being done, and encouraged Quebecers to go out and get tested.

But that call to action may have led to some confusion about who meets the criteria.

What are the criteria?

The official word on the Montreal public health website is that those who have symptoms should first call 514-644-4545 or 1-877-644-4545 to get assessed and referred to the right testing site.

It is prioritizing testing people who have symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Mobile clinics are touted as a service for those who live in the surrounding community.

But Valérie Lahaie, a public-health coordinator for the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, said staff at the site in Côte-des-Neiges have been testing anybody who shows up — for now.

"We try to remind people what the criteria are, but we are not refusing anyone at this point," she said.

The aim is to quickly isolate those who test positive to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, said Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of Montreal's public health agency, Tuesday.

Lubin Bisson said the mobile clinic was one of two walk-in clinics he saw were open and headed across town to Côte-Des-Neiges without calling first. (CBC)

First day in Côte-des-Neiges

The mobile clinics are capable of testing about 200 people a day. Lahaie said they can actually test about 300 people a day if necessary.

She declined to estimate how many of those tested on Wednesday met the criteria for testing.

"This is our first day in Côte-des-Neiges," she said on Wednesday, speaking to CBC News as people registered for the test at a table set up under a portable gazebo behind her.

Montreal public health says the first step is to call (514) 644-4545 or 1-877-644-4545 to get an assessment and be referred to the right testing site. (CBC)

The mobile clinic will be at Bill-Durnan Arena until Friday. During that time, she said, the hope is that anybody in the neighbourhood who needs to get tested, comes down for a test.

The arena was chosen for its central location in a borough that is considered a COVID-19 hotspot.

Happy to get tested, but wishes it was sooner

Among those who were happy to finally get tested was Jacky Vallée. 

He said he has had a bothersome dry cough for some time and has wanted to get screened, but he wasn't welcomed at previous testing sites because he didn't meet the criteria that included working in health care or having returned from a trip.

Speaking through a homemade mask crafted from a bright green bandana, Vallée said he lives in Côte-des-Neiges and understood that the mobile clinic was walk-in, so he didn't call the hotline before showing up. 

Now he's relieved to have been tested, but Vallée said, it should have been available sooner.

"I'm jumping at the opportunity," he said. "They are very late in doing this. I'm glad they're finally doing it, but mad they waited so long."

With files from Antoni Nerestant

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