New Brunswick

Wait for COVID-19 test results to drop to 45 minutes from as high as 48 hours

New Brunswickers could have their COVID-19 test results within 45 minutes instead of waiting up to two days, starting as early as next week — provided the province doesn't run out of testing supplies.

Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation paying to equip 7 more labs to analyze samples instead of just 1

Dr. John Dornan, chief of staff for the Horizon Health Network, said New Brunswick will have to significantly increase its testing for COVID-19 in the 'not too distant future.' (Ed Hunter/CBC)

New Brunswickers could have their COVID-19 test results within 45 minutes instead of waiting up to two days, starting as early as next week — provided the province doesn't run out of testing supplies.

The Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation's COVID-19 emergency fund is paying for lab upgrades at seven hospitals across the province, which will enable them to analyze tests taken within their communities, said Dr. John Dornan, the Horizon Health Network's chief of staff.

Until now, all New Brunswick test swabs have been driven in batches to the lab at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton.

Adding GeneXpert instruments to Horizon and Vitalité hospitals in Edmundston, Campbellton, Bathurst, Miramichi, Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John will have "tremendous ramifications," said Dornan.

Instead of people having to wait between 24 and 48 hours in a COVID-19 unit at a hospital or while self-isolating at home, they will know their results in less than one hour.

"This is great news for patients, but also a critical improvement when testing our health-care staff," he said.

 "We will now know in 45 minutes whether we need to send staff home or if they can carry on providing the excellent care they do everyday."

New Brunswick has 91 cases of COVID-19, as of Thursday afternoon, when 10 new cases were announced. Three people remain in hospital, including the first case in intensive care.

The province's testing capacity will be "huge" once the labs are up and running, likely within a couple of weeks, said Dornan.

And the timing "couldn't be better," he said. It will coincide with a planned ramp-up in testing.

"The whole successes in other parts of the world were done with significant increases in testing when required. We're going to need that in the not too distant future."

Premier Blaine Higgs said he plans to release COVID-19 projections for New Brunswick in a week. (CBC)

On Thursday night, Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC's Power and Politics that New Brunswick could run out of COVID-19 testing supplies within a week with ramped up testing and personal protective equipment within three or four weeks.

"But we have orders that are pending and hoping to arrive," he said.

The Moncton lab is conducting about 500 tests a day but has the capacity to perform up to 1,000 tests a day, Higgs said.

"Granted, if we went to 1,000 tests a day we would be looking at supplies needed within about five days," the premier said.

Testing may target those without symptoms

Dornan could not immediately say whether the newly upgraded labs will analyze swabs like the Moncton lab, sputum samples "or some other means."

But he did say he expects the labs will start testing people in the community who "might not have very typical symptoms."

"Thus far, we believe that the vast majority of people that have the disease when they're tested have some degree of symptoms," he said.

"But we are worried that when it is more rampant in the community then, you know, is it possible that people will start shedding virus and be asymptomatic?"

Other targeted groups for testing will include people living in homes for seniors and assisted-living facilities, who are considered "at risk."

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell called the lab upgrades "a very positive development."

"We're looking at rolling that out late next week, perhaps Thursday," she said.

The capacity of the labs will vary, Russell said, with the smaller centres expected to handle about 16 test results a day and the larger ones, about 84 daily.

The software upgrades and components for existing equipment at the seven labs will cost $525,000, according to the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation.

Buying 2 lung machines

The foundation is also purchasing two machines to help with the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

As COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, lung capacity and function can be severely affected.

The two portable extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) life support systems machines oxygenate the blood, allowing the lungs to rest.

The premier thanked the foundation for the donation of the life-saving equipment.

It is "just one example of how the people in this province are coming together to support one another," Higgs said.

The total cost of the two ECMO machines is $137,500, the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation said.

The foundation's emergency fund, established to be used for areas of greatest need in the province during the pandemic, has seen donations of more than $1.1 million over two weeks. Of that, $1 million was donated by the Arthur L. Irving Family Foundation.

With files from Shift


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