HALIFAX -- Foot traffic was steady Thursday at the latest walk-in COVID-19 testing site in Nova Scotia Health's Central Zone.

Walk-in service started at 11 a.m. Thursday at Dartmouth's Zatzman Sportsplex to test Nova Scotians without any symptoms of COVID-19, or any connection to a case or a place of possible public exposure.

Thursday's service targeted 16 to 35 year olds, although officials aren't turning down older residents.

Public health first honed in on the younger demographic after community spread began in the Halifax area last month and a raft of potential public exposures were reported at various downtown bars and restaurants.

Dr. Todd Hachette, the chief microbiologist for the Central Zone, says including 16-18 year olds in testing covers more ground when it comes to identifying potential asymptomatic spread.

"I think the key here is that young people are social people, and just because you can't go to a bar doesn't mean you can't get together with your friends," says Dr. Hachette. "It is that closed interaction with people that will spread this virus."

Young adults who came to the site for testing felt it's an important thing to do.

"We're all safe in our house together," says 21-year-old Jasper Debis. "But I figure the more people who get checked the better."

Thirty-five-year-old Helen MacLeod is glad the province started testing asymptomatic people.

"I think now that there's any asymptomatic spread, if we have the resources to do it, we should do it," MacLeod says.

Twenty-four-year old Bethany Madsen agrees.

"At the beginning of all this, they kind of said that my age group was the age group that wasn't going to be infected," she says. "So a lot of people disregard it … So it's important that they're getting this age group in."

The tests conducted at the Sportsplex are standard PCR tests, which are sent to be processed in provincial labs. Results are supposed to take only a few days.

On Wednesday, provincial labs completed 2,047 Nova Scotia tests.

Public health began using the rapid antigen testing when it did its first pilot of the testing protocol at a closed Halifax nightclub on Nov. 21.

Since then, Nova Scotia Health says 6,663 rapid tests have been administered at seven different sites both within the city and in more rural areas like Wolfville.

Results of a rapid test are available within a few hours, but still have to be confirmed in a provincial lab.  

Dr. Hachette says, as far as he knows, the rapid testing "pop-up" sites for asymptomatic subjects is the first program of its kind developed in the country.

"It's important because we now know that asymptomatic spread is contributing to the spread of this infection more than we understood early on in the pandemic," says Dr. Hachette. "So having a better idea what the level of spread is in the community will help us determine what's circulating and will help us flatten the curve."

All the testing means the health authority has been redistributing healthcare staff to help at testing sites, hiring more public health nurses, and bringing in almost 200 volunteers.

Dr. Hachette says it's likely this level of testing will continue over the Christmas season, but that will ultimately depend on the virus.

"If we are successful at flattening the curve, then it will be important to continue a certain base level of testing, but we may not see the surges of testing we've seen in the past."

In a news release Thursday, the province's chief medical officer of health says although the case numbers are not as high as expected, there are new cases of COVID-19 everyday.

"Now is not the time to let our guard down," reminds Dr. Robert Strang. "Please do your part to slow the spread of this virus by continuing to follow all the public health measures and restrictions."

The walk-in testing at the Zatzman Sportsplex continues from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. through Sunday. ​