Nova Scotia

Canadian Armed Forces deploying personnel for Nova Scotia COVID-19 response

The Canadian Armed Forces has started deploying 74 service members to help out at COVID-19 testing centres in Nova Scotia.

Announcement made same day province reports 96 new cases

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces leave a Red Cross training course at Collège Ahuntsic in Montreal on April 29, 2020. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

As the province grapples with the pandemic's third wave, the Canadian Armed Forces is deploying dozens of service members to help out at COVID-19 testing centres in Nova Scotia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement at a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, the same day Nova Scotia reported 96 new cases.

"With a spike in cases across Nova Scotia and especially in the Halifax region, numbers have risen quickly and the province requested help," Trudeau said. 

Trudeau said Tuesday there would be 60 members deployed in Nova Scotia, but on Wednesday a spokesperson for the Forces said the number was actually 74.

Those members are from five navy ships based in Halifax, and several Canadian Army units from around Nova Scotia. The deployment started Tuesday and was set to continue into Wednesday. 

The help will go to clinics in Halifax, Dartmouth, Wolfville, Truro, Yarmouth and Membertou.

People line up for rapid COVID-19 testing at the Halifax Convention Centre on Sunday, more than half an hour before doors opened at noon. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Nova Scotia's testing centres have been among the busiest in the country as public health officials continue to encourage widespread testing, even for individuals with no symptoms and no known exposure to the coronavirus.

Widespread testing has been a central aspect of Nova Scotia's COVID-19 response, and testing has ramped up significantly during the pandemic's third wave. Earlier this week, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said provincial labs were reaching for daily capacity of 15,000 tests.

More people are being tested in Nova Scotia, per capita, than in any other province, according to Strang. He said that on Monday, between laboratory tests and rapid tests, about 20,000 swabs were processed.

But the system is starting to show the strain. Assessment centres offer appointments three days in advance and as of Tuesday, no appointments were available in the central health zone, which includes Halifax. Nova Scotia's health authority put out a call to the public asking for patience while demand exceeds capacity.

Asymptomatic testing remains available to all, but the health authority said the priority is symptomatic testing and testing for those who have been to potential exposure locations or in close contact with an infected person.

"Please do not book a symptomatic appointment if you don't have symptoms. It's important to keep those appointments free for those who show symptoms," the health authority said in a news release.

Even with the high testing numbers over the past week, Nova Scotia's positivity rate has not exceeded one per cent since the second wave last November. 

The federal government is also deploying military medical personnel to help Ontario's beleaguered health-care system, and Trudeau said Ottawa is "standing ready" with assistance for Alberta, should it request it. 

With files from Canadian Press, Rebecca Martel and Brett Ruskin