Nova Scotia

COVID-19 testing in Cape Breton targets travellers, businesses

People who live and work in Cape Breton or plan to travel south of the border now have more options for COVID-19 testing on the island.

Sydney airport now offering travel testing, local businesses picking up testing kits for staff

Testing is now available at the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport, seen here, for travellers who require proof of a negative COVID-19 test. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

People who live and work in Cape Breton or plan to travel south of the border now have more options for COVID-19 testing on the island.

A private medical company has been testing travellers at the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport for about a week.

The airport's on-site clinic follows a spike in the number of people travelling south, particularly to the United States. 

All Canadian passengers travelling to the U.S. by air must show proof of a negative test or recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight.

Nova Scotia Health does not offer the required testing or documentation, which must be obtained through one of four private companies in the province offering travel testing for a fee — which has come as a surprise to some travellers.

"People were realizing they needed documentation and finding out that they couldn't get that through the Nova Scotia Health Authority testing sites," said airport CEO Mike MacKinnon. 

"The only place to get it was in Halifax at these private clinics. And in many cases, that would mean re-booking their flight out of Halifax."

Private testing sites

The airport service in Sydney is offered through a partnership with Halifax-based Praxes Medical Group, which offers rapid antigen and RT-PCR testing. The private firm has another testing clinic set up at the Cabot Links golf course in Inverness, along with locations in Halifax and Dartmouth. 

Bookings are available seven days a week through an online system. 

Mike MacKinnon is CEO of the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport. He says not all travellers to the U.S. realize they need specific documentation in order to board a flight. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

MacKinnon said the service makes it easier for people to fly out of Sydney, but that doesn't necessarily mean customers will be lining up for flights.

"Whether or not it will encourage people to fly, that's a question that individuals, I think, have to make," he said.

Businesses turn to rapid testing 

Meanwhile, the Cape Breton Chamber of Commerce said employers on the island are turning to rapid testing of their employees as the expected start date of Phase 5 draws near.

CEO Kathleen Yurchesyn said there's been a surge in demand for testing kids as the province prepares to lift restrictions on Oct. 4. 

"It comes down to building confidence within a workplace among employees, so knowing that we're safe to be around one another unmasked," said Yurchesyn.

The chamber is offering testing kits to businesses through a partnership with the provincial and federal governments. Rapid testing is available to all businesses on the island.

Testing for employees who are asymptomatic requires a nasal swab that can be performed at home, with results available within 15 minutes. 

Kathleen Yurchesyn, CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, says rapid testing offers a layer of protection to businesses. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

"It's a screening tool only, and it's meant to add a layer of safety," Yurchesyn said.

"I hope our community sees why it is so incredibly important to get back out [supporting] restaurants, hotels and our small local shops."

Yurchesyn encourages business owners to sign up for workplace testing kits before Oct. 4, when the province will require companies to undergo risk-based assessments in order to take part in the program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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