Hundreds flock to COVID-19 testing site at Calypso waterpark
Drive-thru site off Highway 417 meant to alleviate demand at other testing centres in region
Hundreds of people lined up in their vehicles Friday to get a COVID-19 test at a new drive-thru testing centre in the parking lot of the Calypso waterpark near Limoges, Ont. — including some frustrated by long waits in the nation's capital.
The site, opened one day earlier by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) in partnership with paramedics from the counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry and Prescott and Russell, is meant to relieve pressure on other testing centres in the area, which have seen demand outstrip capacity after school resumed.
"We had an incredible lineup this morning and we've done close to 1,000 cars, which is what I had expected," said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the EOHU.
"We know that there has been a big demand for testing."
The site is the seventh to open in the EOHU and is the latest development in an ongoing effort to expand testing in the region. It will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to anyone over the age of one who also meets new provincial testing guidelines.
The Ontario government announced Thursday it would shift back toward testing only symptomatic people and those in high-risk groups to relieve pressure on publicly funded testing sites and clear a severe backlog of samples. People without symptoms are able to get tested at select pharmacies as of Friday.
While currently billed as a temporary site, Roumeliotis said the tents and ambulances at Calypso will be replaced in the next few weeks with heated trailers as the site takes over the health unit's only existing drive-thru site in Casselman, Ont.
"We're now in the process of ordering special tents, special trailers, heaters and those type of things [so that] we're able to operate in the winter and cold months," said Roumeliotis.
Roumeliotis said the waterpark — which didn't open for the 2020 season because of provincial restrictions — is ideal for a regional testing site because of its location right off the 417 highway, the large capacity of its parking lot and the 3.5-km-long private road leading up to it means long lineups of vehicles won't be disruptive.
Ottawa residents take advantage
The Calypso testing site is proving popular with Ottawa residents, who have had to deal with long lineups and fast-filling online appointments at the city's four main testing sites in recent weeks.
"It's impossible to get in anywhere [in Ottawa] so we came all the way over here," said Julia Climie, who drove approximately 45 minutes from Barrhaven to get a test for her daughter.
Climie said stories of people lining up at Ottawa sites in the early hours of the morning show the desperate need for more testing sites there.
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John Frechette, who also lives in Barrhaven, brought his son to get tested because he was experiencing three different symptoms of COVID-19.
Despite being in line for over two hours by the time he spoke to Radio-Canada, Frechette said he was comfortable waiting in his vehicle.
"It's more convenient to wait in your car than standing and having the kids ... I can entertain them in the car," said Frechette.
"You would think the City of Ottawa would set up some more drive-thru centres considering there's a million people that live in that city."
Ottawa's only drive-thru testing centre is located in the parking lot of the Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park on Coventry Road.
The city has promised to open up a new COVID-19 testing site at a community centre in Orléans in October, and another in the downtown core.
With files from Radio-Canada's Jean-Francois Poudrier