Windsor

Former provincial lab on Huron Church Road could have tested for COVID-19

Located on Huron Church Road, the lab was one of 12 such facilities run by the Ontario government, and processed tests for diseases like tuberculosis and West Nile virus. But it was demolished to make way for the Herb Gray Parkway.

New mega-hospital will have facilities to test for COVID-19, among other future diseases

The Windsor Public Health Lab was commissioned in January 2010 for closure and was eventually shuttered in October that year. (CBC Windsor)

Windsor-Essex could've had a facility capable of processing COVID-19 tests, but health officials say the provincial laboratory that would've handled such testing was closed in 2010 and eventually demolished to make room for the Herb Gray Parkway.

Located on Huron Church Road, the lab was one of 12 such facilities run by the Ontario government, and processed tests for diseases like tuberculosis and West Nile virus. 

It was slated for closure in January 2010, formally closed in October that same year and ultimately demolished to allow the construction of the new highway.

"Closing it down meant tests were going to have to be sent out of town, meant a delay in getting back results," said Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, who was chair of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) in 2010. "It was something we took a stance against as the health unit at that time … and tried to keep it here in Windsor and Essex County."

Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain says, in 2010, he and others petitioned the provincial government to keep the Windsor Public Health Lab open. At the time, he was the chair of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's board of directors. Though he put forth an argument, he says the petition ultimately fell on deaf ears. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Though Bain and others petitioned the provincial government, he said efforts ultimately "fell upon deaf ears."

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 9,000 COVID-19 tests have been processed from coronavirus swabs conducted in Windsor-Essex. More than 1,300 tests are still pending. 

Despite the number of tests conducted, Bill Marra — vice president of external affairs for Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare — said that figure only represents approximately 2.5 per cent of the population.

"We still have a long way to go," he said. 

Bill Marra is vice president of external affairs with Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. He was a city councillor who sat on the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit board when the Windsor Health Lab was comissioned for closure. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

According to Windsor Regional Hospital chief of staff Dr. Wassim Saad, COVID-19 swabs conducted in Windsor-Essex were initially sent to Toronto for processing. 

"In the early stages, we were told the turnaround time was between five and seven days," he said. "In reality, it was really 10 to 14 days."

When Windsor-Essex later began sending swaps for processing in London, Ont., Saad said turnaround time for test results dropped to 24 to 48 hours. 

However, with more testing conducted across Windsor-Essex and in London, Saad said turnaround time has once again increased. 

Dr. Wassim Saad is chief of staff at Windsor Regional Hospital. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"London was dealing with London and its surrounding areas, but now it has to handle all of Essex County and our population to test," he said. 

Saad clarified that having a Windsor-Essex-specific testing facility wouldn't have necessarily "solved the problem" immediately, since access to testing material was its own issue initially.

"But now that we have enough testing material, we have enough agents to run the tests, we just don't have the physical lab space to do it," he said. 

Due to costs and a lack of space, Saad said it's not possible to build a lab at this time. 

However, he said the County Road 42 mega-hospital, which has yet to be built, will include a laboratory capable of handling testing for COVID-19, as well as other unforeseen diseases. 

"There would be specialized equipment, it would have a separate ventilation system, so it'd be much more advanced," he said. "Obviously we'd be able to handle a pandemic or an outbreak like this much easier."

With files from Amy Dodge

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