Nova Scotia

Preston community leaders work to get more people tested for COVID-19

People in the historic black communities in the Preston, N.S., area are pitching in to make sure residents get tested for COVID-19 and to support them through the process.

2 new testing clinics opened this week in East Preston and Cherry Brook

Community leaders like Matthew Thomas from East Preston, N.S., are trying to spread the message that the new COVID-19 clinics in East Preston and Cherry Brook are safe and should be used. (Matthew Thomas)

It's safe to get tested for COVID-19.

That's the message community leaders in the Preston, N.S., area are sending to residents after the province opened two new testing clinics this week.

The clinics at the East Preston Recreation Centre and at Graham Creighton Junior High in Cherry Brook join one in North Preston, which is seeing dozens of people a day, according to the Preston Community COVID-19 Response Team. 

On Monday, Jason MacLean, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union called conditions at the North Preston clinic "subpar" and worried it could put people at risk of the virus. That assessment centre was moved to a larger space within the same facility.

MacLean said he's since toured all three assessment centres and is "thoroughly pleased."

"It is totally a better system today than it was then," he said Saturday. "I give kudos to the community that's on the ground working, along with the doctors that are on the ground working in public health."

Matthew Thomas, a pastor from East Preston, has heard similar concerns from residents, but said he wants to reassure people that the clinics are safe.

"We try to mitigate that with just giving the facts and the honest truth that it's very safe. Everybody is extremely professional and everybody takes extreme safety precautions," he told CBC's Information Morning on Thursday.

Thomas is among a group that's mobilized in the historic black communities to get more people tested and to support them through the process. Influential people in the community have been recruited to help get the word out that the assessment sites are now open.

He said they're calling people and going door-to-door to "answer questions and reassure our community that this is a good thing that we're doing to be proactive."

Residents of East Preston and Cherry Brook have also volunteered to greet people at the testing clinics to answer questions and be a familiar face.

There are now 579 positive cases of COVID-19 in the province.

High rates of community spread have been found in the Preston area and community members have been calling for more resources so they can find the virus and stop it.

North Preston ramping up testing

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang were criticized for singling out residents in the Preston communities for allegedly flouting public health orders. But Nzingha Bernard Millar with the Preston Community COVID-19 Response Team said she's heartened the government seems to be listening.

She said an average of 30-40 people are getting tested at the North Preston Community Centre every day, and about 300 tests have been done since it opened last week.

Nzingha Bernard Millar of the Preston Community COVID-19 Response Team says the two new testing sites are very needed and will help show how the communities are being affected by the virus. (Submitted by Nzingha Bernard Millar)

The clinic hopes to test 1,000 people over the next 10 days, she said. 

Millar said the new testing clinics are important for figuring out how the virus is affecting the tight-knit communities. 

"We just did not have the insight to know how those communities were being affected," she said.

Interactions with police

In addition to sharing information about testing and how to self-isolate, Millar said another big focus has been communicating with people about what to do if they're stopped by police.

Advocates and legal experts have raised concerns that racialized and marginalized communities could be disproportionately targeted for enforcement of public health orders.

Millar said it's important that people know that police could stop them, and that public health orders around physical distancing are very strict. 

"The first line of defence for any interactions that may be less than positive with police is to follow public health orders," she said. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning