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COVID-19 testing centre up and running in Whitehorse

A makeshift clinic opened this week at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse, to see people with flu-like symptoms and test for COVID-19.

Respiratory assessment centre only for people with respiratory issues and flu-like symptoms

Dale Cheeseman of the Yukon government and Dr. Alex Kmet stand outside the Yukon Convention Centre, where the territorial government has set up a temporary respiratory assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

A new respiratory assessment centre is open in Whitehorse, testing people for COVID-19.

The makeshift clinic was set up this week inside the Yukon Convention Centre. As of Wednesday morning, it had seen just under 50 patients since opening.

"This is for people who have mild to moderate symptoms to be able to access assessment for their respiratory or flu-like symptom concerns, as well as to receive COVID testing specifically," said Dr. Alex Kmet, the physician overseeing the facility.

"I think this could be a really good resource for the community, to help reduce congestion."

Kmet says it is not an acute-care facility.

"So this is not a destination for people to stay, if they're sick."

The facility has three makeshift examination rooms where people will see a health professional. (Pat Living/Yukon Health and Social Services)

The centre is only for people with respiratory issues and flu-like symptoms. The government has said that people should be referred there by a health professional, but Health Department spokesperson Pat Living says people can also walk in.

"But it's not a walk-in clinic for any other medical conditions. It's specifically for testing for COVID-19, and those who have flu-like symptoms," Living said.

The territory's first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Sunday, and a third case was announced by health officials on Wednesday morning.

The third case was confirmed about 48 hours after the person was tested — a marked improvement over last week, when Yukon health officials said test results were taking three to five days, or more, because of a backlog at the B.C. lab.

Wash hands, don mask, wait for assessment

People who arrive at the makeshift centre are first asked to wash their hands, don surgical masks, and go through a risk assessment. Chairs for waiting patients are spaced about two metres apart in the large room.

Cases are assessed to determine urgency, and whether a COVID-19 swab will be taken.

"Just like people are used to experiencing at the hospital, it's a first-come-first-served type arrangement, except for those who are more unwell and need more urgent assessment — they'll obviously be assessed sooner," Kmet said.

A sign outside the centre says referrals are needed, but a Health Department spokesperson says people with flu-like symptoms can walk in. However, it is not a walk-in clinic for other medical issues. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

There are three isolated areas set up as examination rooms, where people will see a doctor or nurse practitioner. Kmet says there is enough space for more examination rooms, if needed — but they haven't been needed yet.

Dale Cheeseman, who is in charge of the facility's operations, said the centre's equipment came from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Yukon officials requested the use of a mobile clinic, and the gear all arrived on 16 pallets.

"It took about three hours to have it all set up," Cheeseman said.

"We're open now, and I don't have a timeframe as to how long it's going to be open."

The centre will be open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to noon for people aged 65 and over who have chronic medical conditions, and from noon to 4 p.m. for people with a medical referral.

Chairs for waiting patients are well-spaced. (Pat Living/Yukon Health and Social Services)

According to the government's website, 517 Yukoners had been tested for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Results were still pending from 102 of those tests.

With files from Mike Rudyk and Chris Windeyer

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