It's a small line after all: COVID-19 test site inspired by Disney crowd control measures

The lead doctor at a COVID-19 testing centre just outside Ottawa says she may have found a solution to the province's testing woes with a same-day appointment system inspired by Disney amusement parks.

Site in Kemptville, Ont., says things have gone incredibly smoothly

The North Grenville COVID-19 assessment centre, which opened in late September, operates with a same-day appointment system its lead doctor says was inspired by the FastPass system used at Disney amusement parks. (Kemptville District Hospital/Twitter)

The lead doctor at a COVID-19 testing centre just outside Ottawa says she may have found a solution to the province's testing woes: a same-day appointment system inspired by crowd control at Disney amusement parks.

Dr. Suzanne Rutherford — a big Disney fan who's visited their theme parks with her children — worked at multiple COVID-19 testing centres in Ottawa before being put in charge of the North Grenville COVID-19 assessment centre in Kemptville, Ont., in late September.

The centre opened at a time when the province's testing system was under major stress, with people waiting outside test centres like the one at Ottawa's Brewer Arena for hours at a time. 

"I often sat there and thought, 'What we need is the Disney FastPass system,'" Rutherford said in an interview with CBC Radio's In Town And Out

"There's really no other place in the world that manages crowds and lineups better than Disney."

So she modelled the appointment system at the North Grenville testing site on the FastPass system, which allows people to reserve times at Disney attractions and then wait in lines that are shorter than regular ones.

Anyone who thinks they qualify for a COVID-19 test is first assessed by staff upon arrival at the Kemptville Campus Education and Community Centre. Those who are eligible under provincial criteria are then given a window of time to show up at the actual testing centre, inside Bell Hall, to get tested.

Rutherford said having people register in-person avoids both the pitfalls of phone and online appointment systems and the inconvenience of waiting in line outside. Instead, people are encouraged to leave and come back or wait in their cars in the time between registration and getting the actual test.

"I really wanted people to be able to access the Kemptville assessment centre equitably," said Rutherford. 

Over 500 people were tested in one day last week, Rutherford said, with no one waiting more than 45 minutes from the time they arrived to when their test was completed.

"We basically have been able to manage the volume so far, even on our busiest day," said Rutherford. "There's very minimal, minimal waiting times."

Dr. Suzanne Rutherford says crowd control efforts at her rural eastern Ontario COVID-19 test centre are inspired by those that exist at Disney's theme parks, like this one in Shanghai. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Ottawans welcome

Everything's been going so smoothly that Rutherford is inviting people from Ottawa and the surrounding area who qualify for a COVID-19 test to make the drive to Kemptville, roughly 60 kilometres from the national capital's downtown.

In late September, the province changed the eligibility criteria for testing in an attempt to to relieve pressure on publicly funded testing sites and clear a severe backlog of samples. 

Only people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, those who have come in close contact with a person who has tested positive and residents and workers in a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak qualify for testing at assessment centres.

Others, including those visiting relatives in long term care homes, may qualify under targeted testing initiatives directed by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

Testing centres, for the most part, have transitioned to appointment-only booking systems. Testing is also available at select pharmacies for asymptomatic people by appointment only.

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