Health officials hope new test sites will ease COVID-19 lineups
One mobile facility will provide assistance at Brewer Arena site this weekend
Health officials in Ottawa are optimistic the city's three new provincially funded COVID-19 test sites will help address the number of people overwhelming the existing assessment centres.
"The pandemic has put a major stress on our services," said the Ottawa Hospital's Dr. Alan Forster, who's responsible for how testing rolls out in the city as part of the Champlain COVID-19 Response Committee.
Two of the three sites, first announced Thursday by Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, will travel to schools depending on the need.
By Friday, they'd already been deployed to locations near De La Salle High School and Collège catholique Franco-Ouest, as part of contact tracing efforts related to a positive case at each school.
The third site, Forster said, will be moved among Ottawa's existing sites as necessary to expand capacity. This weekend it will be at the Brewer Arena testing site, where some people have been reporting three- to four-hour waits.
While the new facilities will be operated by a third party outside the purview of the response committee, Forster said his group will still handle their deployment.
Medical staff crisis
Since the beginning of the school year, people seeking tests have endured long waits and have even been turned away because of the heavy demand.
The surge in testing is in part related to the requirement from daycares and schools that children with typical cold symptoms test negative for COVID-19.
There are also staffing issues at play.
Assessment centres initially benefited from the fact the pandemic put many surgeries and other hospital procedures on hold, Forster said, which allowed medical staff to be deployed to the test sites.
But now, with hospitals finally tackling that surgery backlog, those health-care workers are needed again in their regular jobs, Forster said.
Even so, the city's assessment centres are planning to expand their hours, Forster said — but it will be "a large drain on our resource pool."
CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital, is trying to hire more staff for the Brewer Arena assessment centre, said hospital CEO Alex Munter.
Munter said on social media Thursday that the centre was able to quickly open in March because the pandemic forced operating rooms and clinics to shut down, allowing staff to be reassigned.
A word about <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19</a> assessment centres. This morning, I thanked dedicated frontline staff working tirelessly at Brewer. Proud of my <a href="https://twitter.com/CHEO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CHEO</a> colleagues and their <a href="https://twitter.com/OttawaHospital?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OttawaHospital</a> counterparts. We could quickly open this centre in March because operating rooms and clinics had been—@AlexMunter
Accessing more provincial help
On Friday, Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, met with Premier Doug Ford to discuss how the province could help.
"What they're trying to do is get more people," said Etches. "Ontario Health East is looking at drawing in paramedics from neighbouring areas. Our own paramedics are answering the call."
Etches said they're also looking to see whether they can deploy "primary care providers" who work at community health centres to test centres to ease the staffing shortages.
"It's really about increasing the number of people that can take this on. I know it's been terrible in the lineups. We're looking at how [to] manage the lineups better."
Forster also said the online booking system currently used at the drive-thru site on Coventry Road will be expanded to other locations as well.
Testing results are also being slowed down by similar human resources challenges at the labs, he added, as well as because of a global shortage of certain equipment and materials.