Nova Scotia

COVID-19 testing expected to increase in Cape Breton as cases surge

A Sydney Mines woman says she had to travel to Port Hawkesbury to get tested after experiencing flu-like symptoms over the holidays.

'We're ramping up supply and hours for appointments very quickly,' says Dr. Robert Strang

People walk into a COVID-19 assessment site at the Membertou Entertainment Centre last spring. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Cape Breton is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in the last few days, but appointments for testing in some areas are few and far between. 

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said Monday the province will soon redeploy some of its testing resources to the island. 

"We're ramping up supply and hours for appointments very quickly to address those concerns as there's been a surge in cases in that part of the province," Strang told reporters during a COVID-19 briefing.

"When we see adjustments and more resources are needed ... in a certain area of focus, like access to testing in Cape Breton right now, for example, the health system will respond and respond quickly."

On Monday, the province reported 1,020 new cases of COVID-19, including 120 in the eastern zone, which includes the island.

Appointments hard to come by

Jennifer MacLean started experiencing flu-like symptoms last week. The Sydney Mines woman sought out rapid testing and later PCR testing after more people in her family started getting sick. 

MacLean lives just down the road from a testing site, but she said there were no appointments available in her home community or within the entire Cape Breton Regional Municipality after searching online. 

She and her family later packed up and drove the three-hour round trip to Port Hawkesbury, which was her closest testing option.

"To me, it's crazy that we [CBRM] are the second largest municipality in the province — I mean, we're talking roughly 95,000 people — and no PCR testing at all available and no rapid tests available," she said. 

MacLean said rapid testing and pop-up clinics were readily available in Cape Breton when case numbers were low. 

She said now that COVID-19 is spreading, it doesn't make sense to start limiting testing. 

"There has to be a better plan," said MacLean, who declined to disclose her test result. "It seems now when things have ramped up on the island, there's nothing."

Shift in testing practices

Strang said testing practices have been altered in Nova Scotia with the arrival of the Omicron variant.

He said that prior to its arrival, tests were given to asymptomatic people to try and track the virus.

Testings resources are being allocated to people who have COVID-19 symptoms or who were in contact with a known case.

"It seems people believe they can access one rapid test kit per week," Strang said. "That's not true. You can no longer get a test just so you can be sure you don't have COVID."