Nova Scotia

Rapid tests difficult to come by in Halifax-Dartmouth area

CBC News called seven libraries in the Halifax and Dartmouth area on Wednesday evening and only one had rapid tests available.

CBC News called 7 libraries Wednesday evening, only 1 had tests

Rapid tests are proving difficult to come by in Halifax and Dartmouth. (David Horemans/CBC)

Finding COVID-19 rapid tests is proving to be a little more difficult these days in Halifax and Dartmouth.

Public libraries, where members of the public have been able to pick up free tests, are running out. CBC News called seven libraries in the Halifax and Dartmouth area on Wednesday evening and only one had tests available.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett says tests are important because it can help people access treatment.

"If we don't have tests out there, I want people to voice that to the heath units, to their government people, because we need to make sure people have tests," Barrett said.

"And while there are lots of efforts going on to distribute the tests, unless the group that distributes hears that there's an unmet need, there won't be more tests sent out and we need to hear about that unmet need if people are lacking tests."

Libraries that have run out of tests are referring people to MLA offices. CBC News emailed MLAs in Halifax and Dartmouth Wednesday as well. The offices that responded said they're seeing higher demand.

"People are wanting tests, needing tests and are really concerned that they can't get them," said NDP health critic Susan Leblanc, who also represents Dartmouth North.

"I'm hearing from my NDP colleagues that tests are going very, very quickly."

A sign at the Halifax Central Library on July 20, 2022. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Making tests more accessible

Brendan Maguire, the MLA for Halifax Atlantic, said his office is one of the only places people in his area can go to get a test. The problem, he said, is that office hours for MLAs tend to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — a time when a lot of people are at work.

"A lot of time is spent on evenings and on the weekends running around and driving these tests off to people," Maguire said. 

Maguire said his office is always asking Public Health for more tests.

"It's particularly troubling in areas where we have low-income folks that have transportation issues," he said.

"Outside of their MLAs office, they can't go downtown to a library or they can't go to medical facilities to find these.... I need to make sure that my office always has enough so that people aren't spending their days on three buses to try to go get rapid tests." 

MLA Ali Duale's office for Halifax-Armdale said they noticed more people started asking for rapid tests two to three weeks ago.

On July 6, the province announced it was no longer making PCR tests available to people who had tested positive on a rapid test or were asymptomatic. People with symptoms who were considered low risk would not have access to PCR tests either.

It also ended the Test to Protect program, which involved volunteers providing rapid tests or handing them out to the public outside the Halifax Central Library. 

High demand at constituency offices

"I think that instead of limiting accessibility to Covid testing (i.e preventing PCR testing, etc), we need to make it more available to the public. We need an increase in orders of kits for libraries, clinics, MLA offices, etc.," Duale wrote in an email to CBC News.

MLA Patricia Arab's office for Fairview-Clayton Park has also noted more constituents looking for rapid tests.

"We have had between 15-20 people a day referred to us from the library plus the people who call us directly," Arab's constituency assistant said in an email. "We have supplied almost 100 boxes of rapid tests since Monday morning."

Online assessments for tests

Arab's office said there should be more locations for people to get tests.

"Opening up additional locations like the resource centres and local food banks or farmers' markets and ensuring they are able to get stock would allow for more people to obtain testing kits."

In a statement to CBC News, Nova Scotia Health and Wellness said the province is "moving away from asymptomatic testing and therefore the supply of rapid tests in certain locations may vary."

"Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 can still take the online assessment and schedule an appointment to pick up rapid tests."

Health and Wellness was asked how many rapid tests were distributed in June compared to July and the department did not answer that question.

No more asymptomatic testing for heath-care workers

Nova Scotia's health authority says it stopped asymptomatic testing for health-care workers when the province made a corresponding move for the general public on July 6. As a result, rapid tests will no longer be made available to health care workers through their workplace. 

"There may still be rapid test kits in stock in various health-care settings and workers are encouraged to speak with their supervisors to see if that's an option," the health authority said in a statement, but that "these test kits will not be replenished when supplies are depleted."

The health authority said it is prioritizing getting PCR tests for its workers who are symptomatic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

With files from Nicola Seguin and Jennifer MacMillan

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