'We want your nose' – Nova Scotians get swabbed in record numbers
HALIFAX -- With Nova Scotia seeing record new cases of COVID-19, people in the province are heeding the plea from public health to get tested, whether they have symptoms or not.
Since cases first started spiking last week, thousands have flocked to testing centers in the Halifax area and in other locations throughout the province, in the only kind of upward trend public health officials want to see.
At the rapid testing site at the East Dartmouth Community Center, Larry Farrell and Thelma Soulnier brought camp chairs, so they could rest their feet while they waited in line. That line started forming more than an hour before the site opened at noon.
"I'm actually surprised there's not more people that came with chairs," laughed Farrell.
It's the pair's first COVID-19 test.
"We both still work," said Soulnier. "And I'm a healthcare worker, and I thought, 'Let's get checked.'"
"The people have turned out," said Farrell "We're all trying to get through this together, and this is just a little part of us trying to do our part.
Ronalda Tolliver and Kelly Mills came to get tested because they have a family member who was a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case.
"With the expansion of the transfer," said Tolliver. "It's really important to know who has it and who doesn't."
"Hopefully, we can have a better summer if our numbers get down," added Mills.
The province says 11, 335 tests were completed by the labs at Nova Scotia Health as of April 25. Since Oct. 1, the lab has done 391,079.
"Every single individual person (found to test positive) to me is twenty to thirty infections we prevent," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett.
With 66 new cases in the province Monday, she says that's why it's key to do as much testing as possible, to find those positive cases sooner rather than later.
"You need to consider people around you in areas like this as infected," she said, standing outside a rapid testing site at the Halifax Convention Centre.
"That's exactly whey we're doing this. Yes, we're finding more people, but that's because there is more virus around."
Dr. Barrett said the rapid testing sites are for people who are asymptomatic, don't have any close COVID contact, and haven't been to any listed potential exposure site. It's also not for anyone who has traveled outside the province.
Even so, she said the sites are finding positive cases, "in the double digits."
As for whether people should be concerned about their own risk of exposure while spending time in long lineups at testing locations, Dr. Barrett said steps have been taken to lessen any potential of that as much as possible, including keeping lineups outdoors only, and making sure everyone in line is wearing a mask.
At the COVID-19 primary assessment center set up inside Halifax's Mayflower Curling Club, manager Lynn Malloy said staff have been testing upwards of 1200 people per day.
Some are people who have been at exposure sites, but she said many are people who just want to do what's right.
"It makes us feel really good," she said, "because the more testing that we have come through the door, the more disease we hope to find, the safer our community will be."
The high volume of testing has meant bringing in extra help to keep up the pace.
Members of the Halifax Regional Fire department are among those pitching in.
"I would say probably each person here is going to do eighty," said HRFE Captain Edward Oakley, "So do that math on that, there's been quite a few, (I'm) getting pretty handy at it."
But firefighters aren't the only ones who respond to the need for extra hands. The public can also apply to volunteer at testing sites, no healthcare experience required.
"We need everybody, from someone to register, somebody to swab, to test, all the way through," said Stephanie Baker.
Baker is a registered nurse volunteering her time at the East Dartmouth Community Center rapid testing site.
She said anyone willing to help will get training beforehand and shifts are normally about four to five hours with breaks.
"For me this was not a big stretch at all, if someone needs my help, I will help."
She also encouraged anyone who hasn't been tested yet, do to so.
"We want your nose," she laughed. "Come, come!"