How P.E.I. went from zero to 2,000 local COVID-19 tests a week

At the end of March P.E.I. had no local capacity for testing whether sick people on the Island had COVID-19 or some other similar illness.

Slow return of tests in March left 100s in limbo

The need for local COVID-19 testing quickly emerged as an issue on P.E.I. in March. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

At the end of March P.E.I. had no local capacity for testing whether sick people on the Island had COVID-19 or some other similar illness.

Some tests were going to Moncton, the only testing lab in the Maritimes, but most were going to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. That led to some frustrations because getting results back could be slow, especially over the weekend.

"It often took 48 to 72 hours to get it there, and then once there it took somewhere between 24 and 48 hours to process," said Dr. Greg German, a medical microbiologist and infectious diseases consultant with Health PEI.

On April 1 the province was able to bring a system called GeneXpert online for local testing. It is a system Health PEI is familiar with, having used it for influenza testing.

But the province still had a shortage of testing kits. On April 10 it brought a new system, BD Max, online. That bumped up the local capacity significantly.

To start with, Health PEI had to check its results against approved labs in other provinces. It can now confirm a negative test independently, but ironically, because there have been so few positive cases on the Island, it can't confirm a positive test on its own.

"[We're] making sure the BD Max was functioning the way we intended it to," said German.

Dr. Greg German is looking to expand P.E.I.'s COVID-19 testing capacity even further. (CBC News: Compass)

"We're now completely independent with the exception of positives, which is a standard process. Once you get 10 or 15 positives then you can also say you're totally independent from off-Island tests."

The province is now doing 70 to 100 tests a day, and German said it has capacity to do at least 280.

And while that is a good capacity for the Island's population, German said Health PEI plans to acquire a second BD Max unit. In the coming weeks, he said, testing capacity could be increased to 1,000 per day.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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